x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

HSBC mistakes in past, but peril lurks in future

HSBC's problems with the US Senate are dwarfed by its potential exposure to the Libor scandal and falling revenues elsewhere.

HSBC's image may be tarnished by a United States Senate investigation, but what about the company's profits?

The bank's shares listed on the London Stock Exchange fell by as much as 3.3 per cent since the scale of its anti-money laundering failures over the past decade was revealed by the inquiry.

But the impact of the case on the bank is largely historic, said Gareth Hunt, the head of research at Canaccord Genuity.

"It should be fairly minimal," he said. "I'm not expecting that it will be hugely disruptive to their business."

But the possibility that the case could snowball in other jurisdictions where the bank operates could not be ruled out, Mr Hunt added.

"You have to be very careful when you approach these situations. They have the potential to gather momentum and become bigger stories."

Even a fine of US$1 billion, which has so far been the "working assumption" of most analysts, would not be particularly onerous for HSBC, said Ian Gordon, the head of banks research at Investec.

"If that number is correct, you're talking about a financial impact of less than 1 per cent of group equity," he said. "Without wishing to diminish the importance of the issue, it's largely linked to a legacy issue and historic problems where at least the lessons have been learnt and the safeguards have improved."

But even without considering the bank's regulatory issues, HSBC is experiencing difficulties as it attempts to wind down businesses in Europe and the US and tilt towards faster-growing markets in the Asia-Pacific region, where the safer assets on offer are accompanied by lower margins.

"I expect to see ongoing margin erosion, hence downward pressure on revenues," Mr Gordonsaid.

That is a far bigger problem for the bank's shares than any past issues with Mexican druglords.


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