Why investors don't care about the HSBC money laundering scandal

Not a massive deal.

HSBC are going to be fined up to $1bn for poor anti-money laundering controls in Mexico, which made it a conduit for "drug kingpins and rogue nations", according to a US Senate committee. Finding that a bank has lax checks on money laundering is nothing new - it happened recently at Coutts, but this time the revelation  “almost puts Barclays in the shade”, writes Nils Pratley at the Guardian.

Well, hardly.

Since the HSBC scandal emerged last week (in an internal memo), shares in HSBC have only dropped 3 per cent – compare this to the 17 per cent fall in Barclays shares since the fine was announced.

Although HSBC’s fine is certain to outweigh Barclays’, the markets have remained fairly unbothered for a few reasons.

First, HSBC’s misdeeds are somewhat overshadowed by the Libor scandal, and second, as detailed in the 340-page US Senate report, the news comes amid that of similar failures  by other banks.

“The senate chose to release HSBC [‘s fine] as a case study - Lloyds and Barclays have also been prosecuted and fined”, says Sandy Chen at Cenkos. He says that Lloyds was fined back in 2009, and Barclays in 2010, but the figures haven’t yet been released.

HSBC investors will also be reassured by the fact that the current HSBC chief Stuart Gulliver was not involved in the Mexican fiasco, where as Bob Diamond was very much at the scene of the Barclays Libor fixings.

Lastly, HSBC can put the problem to bed by simply paying the fine and complying with regulators, an option Barclays doesn’t have. Here’s Sandy Chen in a note:

“Because HSBC has cooperated with the US Senate investigation, and because it has begun to implement the recommended changes, we think that US legislators and regulators will be inclined to give HSBC some breathing space.”

HSBC. Photograph, Getty Images
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How Theresa May laid a trap for herself on the immigration target

When Home Secretary, she insisted on keeping foreign students in the figures – causing a headache for herself today.

When Home Secretary, Theresa May insisted that foreign students should continue to be counted in the overall immigration figures. Some cabinet colleagues, including then Business Secretary Vince Cable and Chancellor George Osborne wanted to reverse this. It was economically illiterate. Current ministers, like the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Chancellor Philip Hammond and Home Secretary Amber Rudd, also want foreign students exempted from the total.

David Cameron’s government aimed to cut immigration figures – including overseas students in that aim meant trying to limit one of the UK’s crucial financial resources. They are worth £25bn to the UK economy, and their fees make up 14 per cent of total university income. And the impact is not just financial – welcoming foreign students is diplomatically and culturally key to Britain’s reputation and its relationship with the rest of the world too. Even more important now Brexit is on its way.

But they stayed in the figures – a situation that, along with counterproductive visa restrictions also introduced by May’s old department, put a lot of foreign students off studying here. For example, there has been a 44 per cent decrease in the number of Indian students coming to Britain to study in the last five years.

Now May’s stubbornness on the migration figures appears to have caught up with her. The Times has revealed that the Prime Minister is ready to “soften her longstanding opposition to taking foreign students out of immigration totals”. It reports that she will offer to change the way the numbers are calculated.

Why the u-turn? No 10 says the concession is to ensure the Higher and Research Bill, key university legislation, can pass due to a Lords amendment urging the government not to count students as “long-term migrants” for “public policy purposes”.

But it will also be a factor in May’s manifesto pledge (and continuation of Cameron’s promise) to cut immigration to the “tens of thousands”. Until today, ministers had been unclear about whether this would be in the manifesto.

Now her u-turn on student figures is being seized upon by opposition parties as “massaging” the migration figures to meet her target. An accusation for which May only has herself, and her steadfast politicising of immigration, to blame.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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