HSBC <0005.HK>, Europe's biggest bank, said on Tuesday that the first quarter of 2012 had begun well, after it posted 2011 pre-tax profits of $21.9 billion (13.7 billion pounds) - the largest for that year by a western bank.

2012 has started well, the first quarter, Chairman Douglas Flint told a conference for investors organised by Morgan Stanley.

In February, HSBC said pre-tax profit rose 15 percent from the previous year to $21.9 billion, and was confident that growth in Asia, Latin America and the Middle East would continue to offset sluggish conditions in Europe.

(Reporting by Sudip Kar-Gupta; Editing by Myles Neligan)