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Analysts had previously expected the bank to report a pre-tax profit of $5.7bn.

Profits fell 4% at HSBC in the first quarter as a higher expense bill - including the costs of digital investment and a possible regulatory settlement in the United States - weighed on the bank's bottom line. That was mainly a result of a new $897 million provision for a settlement with the US Department of Justice over the sale of mortgage-backed securities before the financial crisis.

He said that the bank's "primary focus is to grow the businesses safely, and we have increased investment to deliver that aim". "We are investing to grow revenue further". Mr Flint said the 8 per cent rise in underlying quarterly costs reflected investments in its Chinese and United Kingdom retail banking operations, its Chinese securities joint venture and digital improvements across the group.

The bank's shares plunged in Friday afternoon trading after earnings were announced, falling as much as 2.7 per cent to an intraday low of HK$75.60, the biggest one-day decline since March 23.

"We've got strong progression in terms of revenue across our four global businesses", he said.

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The bank is also planning a share buyback of up to USD2.00 billion, which will start "shortly".

The buyback is expected to be HSBC's only one in 2018 "given the growth opportunities we now see", the company said in an investor presentation Friday.

"This targeted spending contributed to a rise in adjusted costs in the first three months of the year", HSBC's group chief executive, John Flint, said in a statement.

Operating expenses rose to $9.4bn while revenue increased 6% year-on-year from $12.9bn to $13.7bn. "The Hong Kong dollar is now at the weak end of the peg [to the USA dollar] so it's possible that we'll have a more sustained rise in Hibor rates soon", Mr Flint said.

Hong Kong banking giant HSBC said yesterday that pre-tax profit dipped four per cent to USD4.76 billion in the first three months of the year owing to rising operating costs but added it would buy back United States dollars two billion worth of stock.