2 months ago

HSBC investors hold talks as proxy advisors oppose Asia spinoff

HSBC's logo is seen on its headquarters in Hong Kong, China on August 4, 2020 — Reuters/Files
HSBC's logo is seen on its headquarters in Hong Kong, China on August 4, 2020 — Reuters/Files

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HSBC's most vocal individual activist shareholder Ken Lui on Monday said he had spoken for the first time with the bank's largest investor, Ping An, about their controversial proposals to spin off the lender's Asia business.

Top management executives of Ping An Asset Management, an investment unit of the Chinese insurer, exchanged views on the proposals with Lui and reaffirmed its support, Lui told Reuters in an interview on Monday.

The talks were the first official engagement between Ping An and Lui, who is backed by thousands of small shareholders in Hong Kong, HSBC's largest market.

The meeting came after shareholder advisory group ISS said HSBC investors should vote against a resolution supported by Ping An calling on the bank to consider strategic options including a spinoff of its Asia business.

The proposal, over which the bank and the Chinese insurer have been arguing since last April, "lacks detailed rationale", ISS said in a note to investors seen by Reuters.

The war of words between HSBC and Ping An escalated last week ahead of the bank's annual general meeting (AGM) on May 5, at which shareholders will vote on proposals including a strategic review to spin off its Asia business and whether the bank should be forced to boost dividends.

ISS, which advises shareholders on how to wield their proxy votes at companies' investor meetings, became the second major such group to side with HSBC on the issue, after Glass Lewis on Tuesday likewise said the Ping An-backed plan lacked merit.

Ping An on Friday accused the bank of not giving its strategic ideas a sufficient hearing. HSBC has said it had discussed the plans on around 20 occasions, but had consistently said they would destroy shareholder value and would be too costly to implement.

Lui said there was no plan to coordinate with Ping An in the days leading up to the May 5 vote.

A spokesperson for Ping An confirmed the virtual meeting but declined to comment on details of the talks.

Lui said he was lining up meetings with another five large institutional shareholders of HSBC to win their support.

So far, no institutions other than Ping An have publicly supported the proposals.

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