HSBC profits boosted by $362m release in legal provisions, annual report reveals

HSBC added almost $400m to its profits last year from settlements and provisions connected to legal matters, according to the bank’s latest annual report.

The report, released today (20 February), reveals that the bank more than doubled reported profit before tax to $17.2bn last year, with operating expenses falling by 12%.

According to the report, one contributor to this was “a net release of $362m in settlements and provisions in connection with legal matters”, compared to charges of $681m in 2016 and $1.649bn in 2015.

The accounts also show that the bank had $1.5bn in provisions for legal proceedings and regulatory matters on 31 December 2017, compared with $2.4bn on 1 January that year.

HSBC has been involved in a number of major lawsuits in recent years, including litigation relating to its involvement in the liquidation of convicted fraudster Bernie Madoff’s investment firm.

In the report, HSBC states: “Based upon the information currently available, management’s estimate of the possible aggregate damages that might arise as a result of all claims in the various Madoff-related proceedings is up to or exceeding $500m.”

The bank, which has paid out a number of fines over currency rate-rigging, has recognised a provision of $511m to cover foreign exchange rate investigations and litigation.

The report also confirms that HSBC has received requests for information from various regulatory and law enforcement authorities around the world relating to Mossack Fonseca, the law firm at the centre of the Panama Papers data leak. It states: “Based on the facts currently known, it is not practicable at this time for HSBC to predict the resolution of this matter, including the timing or any possible impact on HSBC, which could be significant.”

Compensation for key management personnel is also detailed in the report, with the disclaimer that the role of chief legal officer did not meet the criteria for inclusion in these figures. HSBC’s chief legal officer is former US government lawyer and litigator Stuart Levey, who succeeded Richard Bennett in the role in 2012.

HSBC finalised a review of its global panel of advisers at the end of 2016, with US firm Davis Polk & Wardwell winning a place on the roster alongside Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Linklaters and Norton Rose Fulbright.

HSBC’s UK GC is Hugh Pugsley, who joined from Lloyds Bank in 2015. Last summer, the bank completed a UK panel review which saw CMS, Eversheds Sutherland, Pinsent Masons, Simmons & Simmons, Addleshaw Goddard and Dentons appointed to the line-up.