HSBC Holdings Plc (HSBA)’s credit rating outlook was cut by Standard & Poor’s (SPY:US), which questioned whether the lender is too big to be managed effectively in the wake of regulatory scandals in the U.S. and Europe.
S&P reduced its outlook on HSBC Holdings’s long-term rating to negative from stable, according to a statement today.
The lender set aside $700 million in the first half to cover potential U.S. fines after a Senate committee found the bank gave terrorists, drug cartels and criminals access to the U.S. financial system. London-based HSBC also made a 1.3 billion-pound ($2 billion) provision to compensate clients wrongly sold payment-protection insurance and derivatives.
“Recent events suggest to us that the effectiveness of these controls may be in doubt,” S&P said. The Senate findings “may reflect not only entity-level failings, but, in our view, a potential failure of the group’s enterprise risk management and culture that may have prevented the escalation of known issues to group senior management.”
Heidi Ashley, a spokeswoman at HSBC in London, declined to comment. HSBC’s American depository receipts fell 0.4 percent to $44.27 at 1:31 p.m. in New York.
“The point they are making is if you don’t have adequate controls on money laundering, do you have adequate credit controls?” Cormac Leech, an analyst at Liberum Capital in London with a buy rating on HSBC, said by telephone. “It raises the question are these banks too big to manage to avoid fines.”
The Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations released a 335-page report in July describing a decade of compliance failures by Europe’s biggest bank. Senate investigators focused on New York-based HSBC Bank USA NA as a “nexus” for U.S. dollar services and transfers.
Chief Executive Officer Stuart Gulliver, 53, has repeatedly expressed remorse about what he called in a July 10 memo “unacceptable behavior.” The company has restructured itself to make compliance a more urgent priority, he wrote, and has bolstered staff devoted to oversight to about 1,000 from 200.
It’s “too early” to say whether Gulliver’s actions will allow “consistently strong and effective control over the group,” S&P said.
The ratings company maintained a stable outlook for the lender’s Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corp. unit, citing the prospect of “extraordinary support” from Hong Kong authorities for HSBC’s local division if needed.
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