HSBC Corporation says its profit surged 35 percent last year to $11 billion. Profit for the British bank's Hong Kong unit rose 30 percent. HSBC chief executive officer Stephen Green says the bank's prospects this year depend largely on a healthy U.S. economy.

He adds that because the Hong Kong currency is pegged to the U.S. dollar, interest rate increases in the United States and rising loan demand in Hong Kong bode well for the bank's bottom line. "Logically, you would expect that with the linked currency regime, interest rates in Hong Kong would follow very closely those in U.S.A. and signs are that is in the process of happening in Hong Kong and all of that is positive for our margins," he said.

In Australia, the central bank raised interest rates for the first time in 15 months. The bank is worried about inflation at a time when the economy appears to be slowing down. The borrowing rate now stands at five and half percent - the highest in four years.

Government Treasurer Peter Costello shrugged off concerns about rising prices and told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation the economy remains robust. "Consumer sentiment's higher than it's ever been, business profitability at near all time records, the lowest unemployment in 30 years - this is an economy which has got some oomph," he said.

In the Philippines, the country's dominant telecommunications company, PLDT, saw its profit double in 2004 to $500 million. The company added six million subscribers last year, but warns that revenue from its mobile phone business is falling because of increased competition.

Also in Southeast Asia, Malaysia's trade surplus expanded 20 percent to $2 billion in January from the same period a year ago. Malaysia's Trade Ministry says strong demand for electronics, oil, gas, and rubber boosted exports during the month.

Business confidence in South Korea rose to a three-year high last month. The Federation of Korean Industries says consumer demand appears to be improving. Sales in South Korea's largest department stores jumped nine percent in January from the same period last year.