HSBC increased profit and revenue last year but its performance fell short of analyst expectations © AFP

Shares in Asia-focused lender HSBC have been understandably depressed since the second half of last year, as concerns mount over the US-China trade dispute and a slowing Chinese economy.

Perhaps it is unsurprising, then, that recently appointed chief financial officer Ewen Stevenson and global banking and markets boss Samir Assaf have both chosen to top-up their stakes in the lending giant.

It remains to be seen whether bosses will be able to take advantage of growth opportunities across Asia, while also keeping costs down. Geopolitical tumult has made that a tougher task, with market weakness resulting in missed revenue targets last year and total operating income of $68.6bn (£51.6bn).

The group also reported negative adjusted “jaws” — the difference between the rates of change in revenue and costs — of 1.2 per cent. There may be domestic challenges too, with expected credit losses slightly higher than loan impairment charges in 2017, reflecting “the uncertain economic outlook in the UK and heightened downside risks”.

After the high street stationer announced store closures in 2018, WH Smith’s shares have since enjoyed a strong rally, rising from 1,764p when we tipped them in early January to their current level of 2,082p.

And it is fair to say the travel business has played a crucial role in propping up growth at the group, with sales there up by a fifth during the last financial year. So are recent share sales by the division’s finance director — as well as the group’s overall finance director — a red flag?

In our view, given the size of these disposals, it is unlikely to be a cause for concern. Graham Miller and his wife sold shares for a combined sum of a little over £200,000, while Robert Moorhead, who holds the dual role of finance director and chief operating officer, sold 25,000 shares. His wife also let go of 25,000 shares at the same price.

Directors’ Deals, February 25 2019
CompanyDirectorNo of sharesPrice (p)
Aberforth Smaller Companies Trust Martin Warner1,0001,219.70
African Battery Metals*Andrew Bell10,000,0000.5
African Battery Metals*Paul Johnson10,000,0000.5
African Battery Metals*Paul Johnson5,000,0000.5
Aminex*Jay Bhattacherjee (ceo)1,034,4821.45
Aminex*John Bell (ch)1,034,4821.45
Aminex*Max Williams (cfo)1,034,4821.45
Aminex*Linda Beal 1,034,4821.45
Boxhill Technologies*Catherine McCormick (fd)50,000,0000.1
Boxhill Technologies*Edward Razzall (ch)30,000,0000.1
Castings Adam Vicary (ceo)3,000357
CC Japan Income & Growth Trust Kate Cornish-Bowden10,000138.3
CC Japan Income & Growth Trust John Scott 10,000138.3
City of London Investment TrustRobert Holmes5,000403
Echo Energy Martin Hull 500,0004.2
Edinburgh Dragon Trust James Will10,000375.976
Greene King Richard Smothers (cfo)4,000599.17
Herald Investment Trust Karl Sternberg1,5001,223.70
HSBC Ewen Stevenson (fd)100,000645
Martin Currie Asia Unconstrained Trust Anja Balfour5,970381.55
Metal Tiger*Charles Hall (ch)4,000,0001.45
Metal Tiger*Michael McNeilly (ceo)1,000,0001.45
Metal Tiger*Terrence Grammer9,482,7591.45
MXC Capital Peter Rigg (ch)32,00062
Primary Health Properties Peter Cole50,000118.35
Reckitt Benckiser Elane Stock1,8606,232.82
Rockfire Resources*Gordon Hart (ch)8,823,5300.85
Schroder Japan Growth Fund Anja Balfour (ch)18,000188.8
South32 Ntombifuthi Mtoba2,5002.14
South32 Ntombifuthi Mtoba6122.14
South32 Ntombifuthi Mtoba6002.14
South32 Ntombifuthi Mtoba5,0002.14
South32 Ntombifuthi Mtoba6452.14
South32 Ntombifuthi Mtoba2,5002.14
South32 Ntombifuthi Mtoba2,5002.14
South32 Ntombifuthi Mtoba1,2682.14
South32 Ntombifuthi Mtoba8752.15
Supermarket Income REIT Andrew Hewson (ch)20,000103.8
Victrex Jakob Sigurdsson3,0002,414.88
Wynnstay Gareth Davies (ceo)5,000418
Safestore Ian Krieger 20,000593.25
WH Smith Robert Moorhead (fd)25,0002,037.79
* placing/tender/open offer ♥ spouse/connected party; trades between February 14 and 20; Source: Morningstar/Investors Chronicle

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