JOHANNESBURG – South Africa’s banking stocks took a hit on the JSE yesterday, falling on the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) investigation that has implicated major international banks in possible money laundering and probable criminal activity.
The ICIJ said international banks such as JPMorgan Chase, Deutsche Bank and HSBC Holdings were among the global banks that “kept profiting from powerful and dangerous players” in the past two decades, even after the US imposed penalties on these financial institutions.
Stephen Meintjes, the head of research at Momentum Securities, said the ICIJ investigation exposed the harmful effects of laundering of dirty money across the globe.
“It seems, however, to be old news as far as the banks mentioned above are concerned and is unlikely to affect South African banks in any major way.
“This is because the ICIJ report is largely based on leaked documents from the US Department of the Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Unit which covered 2100 transactions worth $2trillion (R32.63trln) between 1999 and 2017.
“The documents contain reports by banks and other financial entities on transactions that might have involved illegally sourced funds and do not necessarily mean that those reporting were guilty of any crime,” Meintjes said.
Nedbank led the rout on the local market, declining more than 5percent to R93.75 and Standard Bank followed suit, easing 3.70percent to R103.90. Capitec Bank fell 3.01percent to R925.28 and FirstRand 2.22percent to R38.24.
Absa, which cut ties with Barclays last year, eased 3.65percent to close at R82.53.
The country’s banking index eased 3.11percent to close at 5070.98 points.
HSBC shares fell as much as 3.6percent to their lowest since the Asian currency crisis of 1998, while JPMorgan declined 4percent in early trade in New York, and Deutsche Bank 7percent in Frankfurt.
The ICIJ detailed more than $2trln in transactions that were flagged by financial institutions’ internal compliance officers as possible money laundering or other criminal activity and almost 90 financial institutions appear in the roughly 2100 documents obtained, a fraction of the two million reports filed annually, the report said.
Meintjes said HSBC pointed out that “all the information was historical” and predated the bank’s deferred prosecution agreement with the US Department of Justice in 2017.
“The ICIJ report does not of course go out of its way to portray the banks in a good light.
“The banks mentioned above featured most prominently among the reports in the documents so presumably many other banks were mentioned,” he said.
Nesan Nair, a senior portfolio manager at Sasfin Securities, said the negative sentiment that the report brings does not help the local banks at all.
“But today’s price action stems from fears of another lockdown as infections rates start to spike again in Europe,” Nair said.