HSBC unveiled profits of more than £9 billion yesterday - but denied the record figure had been made at the expense of UK customers.
The 37 per cent rise in annual profits to $17.61 billion (£9.18 billion) forms part of a £30 billion industry-wide haul that has left UK banks facing calls for a windfall tax and accusations the sector runs a " complex monopoly".
HSBC, which is Londonbased, said its profits - equivalent to £1 million an hour - owed more to growth and favourable conditions in the United States and China as less than a quarter of its earnings came from the UK, where profits rose 16 per cent to £2.59 billion.
Mounting a defence of its profits haul, HSBC said 7.5p in every £1 of global profits came from the UK bank's personal customers. It also paid £698 million to the Inland Revenue, in contrast to £789 million made from personal customers.
However, Eddy Weatherill, of the Independent Banking Advisory Service, described the profits reported by banks in recent weeks as "astronomical" and said the introduction of a windfall tax was long overdue.
He added: "This is a system that is trying to charge for almost everything that happens, regardless of the service.
"If banks can't put their houses in order then somebody has to help them - that can only be the Government."
He backed comments from Don Cruickshank, who carried out a Governmentcommissioned review five years ago and said last week that he believed nothing had been done to boost competition among banks since then.
Michael Geoghegan, who became chief executive of HSBC's UK arm last year, denied the company was extracting excessive profits from its customers.
He added: "This is one of the biggest companies in Europe and it's a great support for the UK to have HSBC based here. I also believe this is one of the most open markets."
And he estimated that almost one-third of UK residents had an interest in the fortunes of HSBC - either through shares or pension funds. The bank paid £2.6 billion in dividends to UKregistered shareholders in 2004.
The results come a week after Royal Bank of Scotland unveiled bottom-line profits of £6.9 billion and will be followed later this week by Halifax to Bank of Scotland group HBOS and Lloyds TSB.
HSBC sounded an upbeat note on prospects and said some of the concerns which made for an uncertain economic outlook in 2004 had been "allayed to a degree".
Chairman Sir John Bond said: "The solid performance of the first six months continued and we were able to build on the record results of 2003."
Excluding the addition of Marks & Spencer's credit card portfolio in November, HSBC said card balances increased by 19 per cent on a year earlier. Residential mortgage balances were 20 per cent higher at £27.5 billion as HSBC improved its market share in the sector to 4.2 per cent, from around three per cent.
The charge for bad and doubtful debts in the UK was 13 per cent lower than in 2003, as recoveries in the corporate sector offset higher levels of UK personal bankruptcies and a general weakening in credit quality.
Much of the growth in HSBC's global profits came from the United States, where the company acquired specialist lender Household.
The acquisition of Household helped profits from North America rise to $6.18 billion (£3.22 billion), from $4.26 billion (£2.22 billion), while the business in Europe generated $6.17 billion (£3.22 billion), up from $4.86 billion (£2.53 billion).