Bloomberg reports that HSBC (NYSE: HBC) has gone into talks with federal officials to settle charges that it helped launder money for interests in Sudan and Iran. Other banks may be caught in related investigations. Standard Chartered already has agreed to penalties from the banking superintendent of New York State. Standard Chartered does not, however, have a deal with the U.S. government. These banks, and others charged with similar infractions, have no leverage with federal officials.
Public opinion against rich institutions that may have aided governments or people in Iran is bound to be entirely negative. Banks could be forced to relinquish rights to do business in America. This makes quick, and probably very expensive, settlements likely. But analysts have not questioned whether the fines will be large enough to hurt the banks badly on the balance sheet. The payments are just a sort of way to doing business.
Douglas A. McIntyre