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商业 - 金融

英国银行界缘何淡看美国调查渣打洗钱

Cyrus Sanati 2012年08月10日

美国监管机构指控英国渣打银行隐匿与伊朗相关的业务往来,但远在伦敦城的投资经理们对此反应冷淡,并不担心美国封杀渣打银行,因为渣打银行的行为并不是个别现象,很多国际银行都这么干。

    渣打银行(Standard Chartered)或许会倒霉,但肯定不会出局。这家银行行看上去遇到了大麻烦,美国监管机构正在调查它同伊朗伊斯兰共和国的业务往来,但它的所作所为绝不是个别现象。很多大型的国际银行都已经和伊朗建立了业务往来,违反了美国的制裁条例——其中大多数也为此支付了高额罚金。

    这或许就是因为这个原因,周一纽约州监管机构严惩渣打银行后,虽然近两天渣打股价遭受重击,但伦敦城的高级银行家和投资组合经理们似乎并不怎么担心。有报道称渣打银行可能失去在纽约州经营和交易的牌照,此类说法也一概被视为“不经之谈”。

    与此同时,伦敦城的投资经理们都深信,渣打银行的信用状况可靠,就算是跟那些深陷丑闻(从操纵Libor利率到内幕交易)、焦头烂额的银行比起来,它当前的股票价值也算得上便宜。不过,在渣打银行解决这个问题前,或者拨出足以解决这个问题的现金前,该行的股票和债券价格预计仍将比同行便宜。

    就在不久之前,欧洲大银行们还在夸耀它们与伊朗相关实体间的紧密关系。银行家们定期前往迪拜和德黑兰,向毛拉和当地官员大献殷勤,希望能从该国业务中分得一杯羹。作为全球主要的石油出口国,伊朗存在大量以美元结算的巨额交易,需要一种途径使这些现金能够通过国际银行系统进行循环。这项业务的利润率高,而风险相对较低——正是银行爱听的。

    但这对于银行也并不是全无风险。2004年瑞银(UBS)被美国官员盯上,指控它有七年时间与伊朗、古巴、利比亚和南斯拉夫这四个“流氓”国家进行交易——所有这些都违反了美国的制裁条例。瑞银迅速与美国监管机构达成了和解,向美国财政部(the US Treasury)支付了1亿美元罚金。瑞银在与这四个国家的交易中究竟获得了多少收益始终没有披露,但普遍认为,美国政府的罚金差不多只是个零头。即便交了罚金,瑞银仍然继续与伊朗交易,直到2006年底才正式抽身。

    有一段时间,这对伊朗不是个问题,还是有很多欧洲银行愿意帮助伊朗通过银行体系转移大量美元资金。直到奥巴马政府决定加强对伊朗银行业施压,希望藉此迫使德黑兰放弃所谓的核武器计划,一切都改变了。一位曾在那个时期同伊朗有业务往来的伦敦银行家告诉《财富》杂志(Fortune)说:“银行基本上都收到过警告,称政府不会再睁一只眼闭一只眼。”从2009年9月到上个月,美国联邦监管机构至少已经处罚了六家在过去十年中与伊朗进行交易的国际银行,其中有好几家英国银行:劳埃德银行(Lloyd's TSB)支付罚金3.50亿美元,巴克莱(Barclays)罚金1.76亿美元,汇丰(HSBC)尚未受到罚款处罚。渣打银行只不过是排在它们后面的又一家将受到处罚的银行。

    不光是英国银行受到处罚。美国联邦政府也处治过一些欧洲银行,像法兴银行(Societe General)和瑞信(Credit Suisse)就分别支付了10万美元和5.36亿美元罚金。甚至连美国的银行也被发现染指伊朗业务,摩根大通(JP Morgan)就因违反美国制裁条例而被处罚金8,800万美元,其中包括与伊朗相关的交易。

    渣打此番的不同之处在于,指控是由纽约州单独提起的。通常在此类调查占据主导地位的华盛顿监管机构往往会采取更谨慎的做法,会在宣布违规的同时公布罚金,以免银行处于很大的不确定性中。如果联邦官员先公布违规后公布罚金,政府可能会对罚金的数额做出暗示。比如,由于类似的违规行为、像渣打一样处于巨大不确定性中的汇丰已经提前拨出了7亿美元,以应付可能的罚金。美国政府指控汇丰与包括伊朗在内的流氓国家进行了肆无忌惮的交易,交易价值约200亿美元。

    像其他大型国际银行一样,渣打据称也很乐意帮助伊朗满足其银行需求。纽约州监管机构指控,从2001年到2010年,渣打与伊朗进行了2,500亿美元的不正当交易,违反了美国的制裁条例。而渣打表示,它只能找到1,400万美元的交易可能触及红线。这里显然存在一些分歧。

    Standard Chartered may be down, but it is certainly not out. While it appears that the bank is in very hot water with state regulators over its business dealings with the Islamic Republic of Iran, its story is far from unique. Many major international banks have done business with Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions – with most paying hefty fines for doing so.

    That may be why senior bankers and portfolio managers in the City of London don't seem too worried about the beating Standard Chartered's stock has taken in the past few days after New York State regulators threw the book at the bank on Monday. Talk that the bank could lose its ability to work and trade in the state is being dismissed as simply "loony."

    Meanwhile, money managers in the City believe that the bank's credit looks solid and its equity value is now cheap compared to its peers – even ones that have their plates full with their own scandals ranging from the Libor fixing to insider trading. Nevertheless, the company's stock and bonds are expected to trade at a discount to its peers until the bank either resolves the issue or sets aside the cash to deal with it.

    It wasn't too long ago that the big European banks actually flaunted their close relationship with entities connected to Iran. Bankers would take regular trips to Dubai and Tehran to court the mullahs and their apparatchiks to secure a piece of the nation's business. As a major oil exporter, Iran engaged in a number of big dollar-denominated transactions and needed a way to recycle that cash through the international banking system. The margins in that business were high while the risks were relatively low – exactly what banks like to hear.

    But it wasn't all risk free for the banks. In 2004, UBS was singled out by U.S. government officials for engaging in transactions over a seven-year period with Iran and other "rogue" nations, including Cuba, Libya and Yugoslavia -- all in violation of U.S. sanctions. The bank settled quickly with U.S. regulators, paying $100 million to the US Treasury as penance. While it was never disclosed how much UBS gained from its dealing with the four nations, it was generally viewed to be a fraction of the fine handed down by the U.S. government. Even with the fine UBS continued to do business in Iran, not pulling out officially until late 2006.

    For a while, that was no matter for Iran, which still had plenty of European banks willing to help it move its hoard of U.S. dollars through the banking system. All that changed when the Obama administration decided to step up pressure on Iran's banking sector in a bid to get Tehran to give up its supposed nuclear weapons program. "Banks were essentially put on notice that the government was no longer looking the other way," a London-based banker who did business in Iran during that time tells Fortune. From September of 2009 to last month, federal regulators levied fines on at least six international banks for their dealings with Iran in the previous decade. Among them were a number of British banks including Lloyd's TSB, which paid a fine of $350 million; Barclays (BCS), which paid $176 million; and HSBC, which has yet to have a fine levied against it. Standard Chartered was simply the next in line to take a hit.

    But it wasn't just UK-based banks that were served. The Feds also went after continental banks like Societe General of France, which paid a fine of $100,000 and Credit Suisse, which paid $536 million. Even U.S. banks were caught in the Iranian cookie jar, with JP Morgan (JPM) fined $88 million for its role in violating US sanctions law, including those connected with Iran.

    What appears to be different this time with Standard Chartered (SCBFF) is that NY State filed its complaint against the bank alone. Regulators in Washington, which usually lead any investigation, typically handle things in a more discreet way, announcing the violation and the fine at the same time to avoid a situation where the bank would be in limbo. Where the Feds announced the violation before the fine was issued, the government may have hinted to what the fine could be to the banks. HSBC, for example, is currently in limbo like Standard Charter for similar violations, but has set aside $700 million to absorb any potential fine. The government alleges that HSBC engaged in unscrupulous transactions with rogue nations, including Iran, with a total notional amount of around $20 billion.

    Like the other major international banks, Standard Chartered was allegedly more than happy to help Iran with its banking needs. From 2001 to 2010, New York State regulators allege that the banks had engaged in $250 billion – with a "B" – worth of inappropriate transactions with Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions. The bank, meanwhile, says it could only find $14 million worth of transactions that might have tripped the wire. There is clearly some disconnect here.

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