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HSBC takes $2.3 billion hit with sale of French retail bank

HSBC has agreed to sell its French retail bank to Cerberus-backed My Money Group in a deal which will mean a loss of around $2.3 billion for the British bank but end its long struggle to dispose of the business as it focuses on Asia.

The deal announced on Friday sees HSBC take another significant step in a wider retreat from slow-growing European and North American markets where it has struggled against larger domestic players.

Meanwhile Cerberus continues to snap up banks in Europe, where the U.S. based private equity fund already owns stakes in Deutsche Bank and Commerzbank.

The deal will see My Money acquire HSBC’s 244 branches, around 3900 staff and 24 billion euros in assets, creating at a stroke what My Money described as a new challenger bank in France’s crowded retail banking landscape.

“Our aim would be for the bank to return to profitability, three years after we have taken control of it,” My Money Chief Executive Eric Shehadeh said in a statement.

HSBC shares were down 1.9% at 1339 GMT, after slipping ahead of the announcement of a deal that had been widely reported.

The sale price would be a nominal 1 euro, HSBC said, adding that the business would have a net asset value of $2 billion at the time the deal completes, with the British bank agreeing to make up any shortfall in that valuation if it declines.

My Money said it will resurrect the Credit Commercial de France (CCF) brand, which HSBC bought for some 11 billion euros 21 years ago as it attempted to gain a foothold in one of Europe’s biggest markets. It also plans to invest 200 million euros in the HSBC unit’s technology infrastructure.

Under French law, the two parties have to consult employees on the deal, and if HSBC and My Money decide to proceed it could be signed in the third or fourth quarter of this year, with completion due in 2023.

Shehadeh said My Money was a “responsible employer” and that any job cuts would not happen until 2024 or 2025.

HSBC will retain other parts of its French business including its investment and business banking units.

The deal marks HSBC’s second exit from a major Western market this year after it sold its U.S. retail banking businesses, as Chief Executive Noel Quinn cuts his losses in markets where HSBC has long struggled to be profitable.

Low central bank interest rates and competition from domestic players have combined to make traditional deposit-taking retail businesses unattractive in many developed markets in recent years, especially where banks are subscale.

HSBC put its French retail business under “strategic review” in September 2019, with a sale launched in December the same year, as it abandoned a long struggle to generate sufficient profits from the unit.

The business made a loss before tax of $288 million euros for the financial year ended 31 Dec 2020, HSBC said.

HSBC struggled to attract interest as bidders fretted at the heavy restructuring assumed to be necessary, and complex talks with local regulators. French banks, which initially studied the dossier, all walked away.

Dutch bank ING said separately it had also placed its French retail banking business under strategic review.

Meanwhile, Tesco, Britain’s biggest supermarket group, has extended a one-hour delivery trial as it tests consumers’ appetite for the service, its boss said on Friday.

Rapid delivery is the latest frontier in the battle for grocery shoppers’ cash.

A raft of new firms, including Weezy, Getir, Dija and Gorillas, are offering deliveries within 15 minutes of ordering, prompting traditional supermarket groups to rethink their business models.

Tesco piloted its “Whoosh” service to postcodes around its Express store in Wolverhampton in central England and has now rolled out the trial to 11 more stores, Chief Executive Ken Murphy told reporters after updating on first-quarter trading.

All items are delivered by bike, moped or car, with a 5 pounds ($6.95) delivery fee.

“We’ll keep testing and learning from this as well as the trial we’re doing in more than 260 One Stop stores with Deliveroo,” Murphy said.

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