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Analysts Split on HSBC Plans

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) - HSBC's (HBC) plans to unload its U.S. consumer and credit card business too little, too late and gives its more aggressive competitors a head start towards decent profitability, according to one industry analyst.

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"HSBC management has set the bar very low for its own performance benchmark. To justify the current stock price, they must significantly outperform these goals," said Miller Tabak + Co. analyst Thomas Mitchell in a note. "These do not look like tremendously ambitious goals."

The bank announced Wednesday that it plans to review it credit-card business and possibly sell parts of its retail business in the Americas in an effort to cut $3.5 billion in three years. The announcement comes as the bank is preparing to meet Basel III capital requirements and announced that its first quarter revenues were slightly off at $17.6 billion.

HSBC CEO Stuart Gulliver told analysts that the sale of the U.S. credit card business and retail branches could generate $25 billion. Analysts had said that U.S. deposits were strong during the first quarter, up at $47 billion at $1.3 trillion. .

Mitchell argues that HSBC should have disposed of under-earning divisions a long time ago and that the bank's expense ratio "has been quite bloated in recent months." He added that, given HSBCs plans, the implied earnings per American Depositary Receipt between $5.20 and $6.50 by 2013 are "hardly an impressive target for a bank that earned $8.20 in 2007."

Many of HSBC's European competitors, including Barclays (BCS) and Lloyds (LYG), are divesting businesses with low returns in order to raise more capital and are much farther along.

HSBC has its defenders, including UBS analyst Alastair Ryan.

"In our view this is the best-funded major international bank and becoming more so even with its foot hard down in Asia and LatAm," Ryan said in a note released prior to the earnings report. Separately, Citigroup analyst Ronit Ghose said the bank should have $3 billion in cost savings improving its cost/income ratio from 55% in 2010 to 48-52% by 2013.

HSBC shares were trading down $1.07 at $52.61 in midday trading.

--Written by Maria Woehr in New York.

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