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HSBC said in talks with US to end crisis-era mortgage probe

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HSBC Holdings Plc is in talks to resolve a US probe into its sale of toxic mortgage bonds a decade ago, according to people familiar with matter, a negotiation that could offer an early look at how the Trump Justice Department will deal with global banks.

[WASHINGTON] HSBC Holdings Plc is in talks to resolve a US probe into its sale of toxic mortgage bonds a decade ago, according to people familiar with matter, a negotiation that could offer an early look at how the Trump Justice Department will deal with global banks.

The London-based bank has had at least one meeting with the Justice Department and is scheduled to meet again, said three people who asked not to be named because the negotiations are confidential. The two sides remain far apart in discussions with Justice Department lawyers, while Trump administration appointees have yet to weigh in, one of the people said. A resolution, if one can be reached, is still weeks or even months away, the people said.

If HSBC reaches an agreement with the government, it could give an early indication of how the new administration will levy financial penalties. Attorney General Jeff Sessions last month issued a department-wide memo requiring settlement funds to be paid to the US Treasury or to victims. The prior cases allowed billions of dollars in penalties to be paid through consumer relief measures - mortgage modifications, repayment plans and short sales, among other remedies. The Justice Department hasn't said whether those so-called soft-dollar portions of the penalties will be allowed under the new policy."Consumer relief is a way for companies who've engaged in harmful conduct to acknowledge their role in creating the problem and to be a part of the solution," said Christopher Casey, a former Justice Department official who worked on mortgage-bond cases during the Obama administration. "That's why those provisions in the settlements that had been reached previously in my view were positive parts of the settlements and they were effective."

HSBC said that government lawyers told the bank late last year that their preliminary view was that the bank was liable for bad securities sold between 2005 and 2007, according to the company's annual report filed in March. HSBC said in the report that it had disagreed with the Justice Department and would argue its position at a later time. The bank's position hasn't changed, said one of the people.

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The talks show that Justice Department lawyers - primarily operating from US attorney offices - continue to push forward with outstanding mortgage bond cases left over from the Obama administration. However, it's unclear how involved the new Justice Department leadership is in those efforts. Under Mr Obama, the mortgage bond cases were overseen by the Justice Department's No 3 official, who took an active role in negotiating multi-billion-dollar settlements with global banks. Rachel Brand, the Trump-appointed official in that post has been on the job for a little over a month, while the Justice Department's Civil Division - another key player in the previous settlements - is operating under temporary leadership.

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