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HSBC's Mexico Unit Sees Growth Next Year As Economy Rebounds

MEXICO CITY -(Dow Jones)- The Mexican banking arm of HSBC Holdings PLC (HBC) said Wednesday that it expects to return to growth next year as the economy slowly recovers from the worst recession since the 1995 peso crisis. Luis Pena, chief executive of Grupo Financiero HSBC, said during a press conference Wednesday that small business, mortgage and credit card loans will be the group's main growth drivers next year. Pena also said the bank plans to spend about $120 million next year to remodel, relocate or open 270 branches. The Bank of Mexico expects the economy to grow between 2.5% and 3.5% in 2010, after contracting an estimated 7% this year, when a sharp economic downturn in the U.S. slashed Mexico's exports. "All of the [economic] signals that we follow on a daily, weekly and monthly basis point toward a recovery. I'm sure 2010 will be better than 2009," said Pena, who warned the recovery will be slow, due to a weak U.S. economy. Overall lending by Mexico's banks has stagnated this year due to the recession, with sharp declines observed in consumer loans, where banks have been hit by a surge in credit card defaults. Bank loans were nearly unchanged, at 1.889 trillion pesos ($148 billion) as of Oct. 31, compared to the same period last year, according to banking and securities regulator CNBV. The loan portfolio of HSBC Mexico, the banking unit of Grupo Financiero HSBC, shrank 13.2%, to MXN157.12 billion, during the same period. HSBC entered Mexico's banking industry when it paid nearly $1.14 billion for the country's fourth-largest bank, Grupo Financiero Bital, in late 2002. HSBC, however, has struggled to compete in a market dominated by other large foreign banks, namely Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria SA (BBV) and Banco Santander SA (STD) of Spain, Citigroup Inc. (C), and Bank of Nova Scotia (BNS). Net profit at Grupo Financiero HSBC fell 56.7% year-on-year, to MXN1.56 billion, during the first nine months of 2009, as a drop in net interest income, lower fee income, and higher loan impairment charges took their toll on its bottom line. HSBC Mexico's loan portfolio and retail deposit base have shrunk in the last year to the point where it now ranks fifth by both measures, according to CNBV data. It has also suffered more than rivals from rising levels of bad loans, especially in credit cards, as the recession makes it harder for consumers and businesses to pay their debts. The bank's overall nonperforming loan ratio stood at nearly 5.6% at the end of October, compared with an average of 3.3% for the country's seven top banks, according to CNBV data. In credit card loans, HSBC Mexico's nonperforming ratio was the highest of its peers, at 14.6%. Pena recognized that the deterioration in asset quality in the consumer loan portfolio has been a challenge for the group during 2009. But he said loan restructuring programs aimed at indebted consumers are starting to bear fruit. "If you look back at the last six months you will see that the non-performing loan ratio in our consumer portfolio has been falling at a [faster] rate than that of our competitors," he said. -By Ken Parks, Dow Jones Newswires, 52-55-5980-5177, [email protected]

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