HONG KONG: British bank Standard Chartered said it expects to grow income by 10 per cent or more this year and wants to add another 2,000 staff to its payroll, as it remains optimistic on Asia.

The Asia-focused bank said operating profit was up by more than 10 per cent in the first quarter as it kept a tight grip on costs.

'We have real momentum and we have significant investment capacity, so we will accelerate investment over and above what we budgeted,' said finance director Richard Meddings.

Last year, the bank notched up a ninth consecutive year of record earnings on the back of buoyant growth in Hong Kong and Singapore.

It is expected to stretch that to a 10th year, with profits expected to hit US$7.5 billion (S$9.5 billion), up by 10 per cent.

Mr Meddings said he was comfortable with the consensus forecast.

The bank expects to open its 100th branch in China this year - it now has 86, making it the third-biggest foreign bank in the country, after HSBC and Bank of East Asia.

It kept its staffing level at around 87,000 in the first quarter, but should add about 2,000 jobs by the end of the year, in its technology operational hubs and China sales force, Mr Meddings said.

London-based Standard Chartered, which gets about four-fifths of its income in Asia, earns much of that in local currencies, which translates to fewer dollars when the US currency strengthens.

Mr Meddings said the currency impact should ease in the second half of the year, although he said tougher regulations also remained a drag on revenue growth.

'Overall, the statement is broadly in line with the guidance given when the bank reported (2011) second-half results,' said Mr Tom Quarmby, an analyst at Barclays.

'The consensus forecast for the stock should be reachable.'

Standard Chartered said it saw strong first-quarter growth in Hong Kong, Malaysia, Indonesia and China.

Its India business continues to suffer from depressed business confidence, although Mr Meddings said he expected income there to rise by 'single digit per cent' this year after slumping by a third last year.

The bank reported the most difficulty in areas such as corporate finance that have been tough for the industry as a whole.

Standard Chartered does not publish full quarterly numbers, only issuing commentary on performance.

The bank was dragged into a dispute over top executive compensation when advisory group Pirc this week said investors should vote against its pay plan at its May 9 annual meeting, citing the award for Mr Mike Rees, head of wholesale banking.

That follows a shareholder revolt at another British bank, Barclays, over boardroom pay.