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3 Things to Loathe About HSBC Holdings

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LONDON -- There are things to love and loathe about most companies. Today, I'm going to tell you about three things to loathe about HSBC Holdings  (LSE: HSBA  )   (NYSE: HSBC  ) .

I'll also be asking whether these negative factors make this FTSE 100 banking giant a poor investment today.

Money laundering
Of all the banking scandals of recent years, the HSBC money-laundering affair -- which led to a record $1.9 billion fine for the bank -- is perhaps the most odious. A U.S. Senate investigation alleged that a "pervasively polluted" culture at HSBC allowed the bank to act as a financier and conduit for organized crime, drugs cartels, and rogue terror regimes.

The U.S. probe found that not only were HSBC's anti-money laundering controls woefully inadequate, but also that the bank ignored red flags, deliberately circumvented money-transfer regulations, and actively concealed billions of dollars of suspicious transactions to Iran over many years.

The rewards of failure
The record money-laundering fine was one factor during 2012 that led to HSBC's performance against half the measures in the company's long-term executive incentive scheme being at a level that merited no payout.

Despite these failures -- which included missing targets for return on equity and cost efficiencies -- HSBC rewarded chief executive Stuart Gulliver with an $11 million remuneration package, part of which was an annual bonus worth almost $3 million. The company also paid 78 of its London staff over 1 million pounds each.

Shareholder lobby group PIRC has attacked HSBC's pay policies, and has called on investors to vote against the company's remuneration report at this Friday's AGM.

Advertising campaigns
I can't tell you quite why, but I've never been impressed by HSBC's TV advertising. The latest "Lemonade" campaign hasn't changed my opinion.

For one thing, somebody should tell HSBC that there's a fine line between "endearing child" and "smug brat." For another, the dad in the ad looks as shifty as they come to me, and I can't help thinking his daughter's lemonade stall is just a front for shady currency transfers: "I take Iranian Rial."

A poor investment?
Fair enough, my pet hate of the TV ads doesn't amount to much -- we do try to amuse as well as educate and enrich here at the Motley Fool! -- but do HSBC's money-laundering deceits and pay policies make the company a poor investment?

Banks' reputations during recent years could hardly be at a lower ebb, but with regulators and shareholders on their cases, I think we'll see fewer blunders and less extravagant bonuses for a good number of years to come.

If banks start to look after their shareholders' interests better, dividends should be an important part of the recipe. When it comes to dividends, HSBC has a headstart on its rivals. The stock offers a forecast 4.4% income at the current share price of 759 pence, and analysts expect strong growth of the dividend.

Let me finish by saying that if you already own shares in HSBC and are looking to invest in big FTSE 100 companies in other sectors, you may wish to read this brand-new Motley Fool report.

You see, the Fool's top analysts have pinpointed a select handful of blue chips as "5 Shares to Retire On." These five high-quality businesses include a utility group "with nearly guaranteed returns," a health care company with "prodigious cash generation," and a retailer trading at "an appealing discount."

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  • Report this Comment On May 20, 2013, at 10:11 AM, oak5146 wrote:

    OK - let's just say this is another anti-British corporate diatribe. HSBC is the big (profitable) ogre, just like all the American giant banks are paragons of virtue? ???

    There is no recognition of the serivce HSBC provides its customers (disclosure - I am one satisfied bunny). Compare the security levels of its internet service with the pitiful security offered by its US contemporaries. And what about shareholder value - at least it has retained its capital investment value - have CITI? BA?. Oh, and that dividend - continued unabated through the great recession

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