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Deutsche made 'oral' deal with rogue bank as 2 rivals also skirted rules: files

C&I Loan Growth Pops In Q2, But Tax Reform’s Role Remains Unclear

Banking

StreetTalk Episode 27: Looking For The Cream Of The Crop In Bank Stocks

Loans And Deposits Continue Uphill Climb At US Banks In June

Peeking Into The Future Without Staring At A Crystal Ball: Brexit Scenarios And Their Impact On Energy Firms’ Credit Risk


Deutsche made 'oral' deal with rogue bank as 2 rivals also skirted rules: files

At least three foreign financial institutions, including Deutsche Bank AG, breached regulations requiring them to identify the people behind money transfers from a Cypriot bank notorious for catering to high-risk clients, in a practice that helped FBME Bank Ltd. to launder money before authorities closed it down, documents obtained by S&P Global Market Intelligence show.

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The documents reveal that three employees at FBME described an "oral" deal between their bank and Deutsche Bank, one of the world's biggest payment processors, to wave through hundreds of millions in dollar transactions from high-risk FBME client accounts without requiring the names of the beneficiaries to be disclosed on electronic transfer forms, in contravention of international rules at the time. The most senior employee of the three, then head of compliance, alleged that Austria's Raiffeisen Bank International AG, and Germany's Commerzbank AG also allowed FBME to omit the names of beneficiaries from messages, although there is no suggestion that the two had a specific arrangement with the Cypriot bank to do so.

FBME had an "oral agreement with Deutsche Bank. We didn't want to give UBO info to Deutsche Bank because of confidentiality," FBME's head of compliance, Lilit Khachatryan, told external lawyers hired by the bank to contest U.S. sanctions imposed in 2014, according to internal memos leaked to S&P Global Market Intelligence, whose authenticity has been verified by two independent sources with knowledge of the matter. "[The] arrangement wasn't documented," she added.

The UBO, or ultimate beneficial owner, is the person whom banks are obligated by European and U.S. law to identify when opening accounts and handling transactions in the names of companies.

The notes were prepared in late summer 2014 by lawyers from a well-known international firm hired by FBME, who interviewed employees and reported to the bank's top management. Interviewees were warned that the discussions could be disclosed to regulators, according to the notes.

Khachatryan told the lawyers that an unspecified Deutsche employee agreed to this deal to speed up transfers from FBME clients who were based in high-risk or internationally sanctioned countries, such as Russia, Iran and Syria. Concealing beneficiaries was a violation of regulations and industry norms at the time and remains so today.

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Follow the links below to read Matei Rosca's previous coverage of the transgressions at FBME Bank.

How Russian criminals used FBME Bank in Cyprus to pay firms tied to Syrian sarin

FBME: A hive of financial crime that spanned the globe

Rogue banking: Inside FBME's haywire compliance department

FBME was named a financial institution of primary money laundering concern in 2014 by the U.S. Treasury's financial crime bureau, known as the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, or FinCEN. The designation isolated the bank from global markets and eventually led to its being taken over by the regulator and wound up.

At the peak of FBME's money laundering activity between 2010 and 2013, Deutsche Bank was its main correspondent bank, processing the majority of transfers issued by the Cypriot lender.

FBME's customer list was later revealed to include many high-risk shell companies incorporated in secretive jurisdictions such as Belize and the British Virgin Islands, often owned by politicians and tax avoiders from impoverished countries, and by sanctioned state entities from the likes of Syria and Iran. FinCEN said the latter used the bank to engage in the proliferation of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.

EU regulations demanded the identification of UBOs on money transfers as early as 2005, and most banks invested heavily in compliance and risk assessment to uphold the new rules.

"UBO requirements were very much included in the third Money Laundering Directive of 2005. These requirements were strengthened progressively by the fourth and fifth directives," said Chrisol Correia, a director at LexisNexis Risk Solutions in London, a consultancy specializing in money laundering prevention. "The omission of beneficiary information in a payment would typically see the message returned to the originator," he added in an interview in July 2018.

All three banks might have been privately reprimanded by their regulators for the failures reported in this article, but the details of their contraventions relating to FBME's account beneficiaries have not been previously reported publicly.

Anonymous relationships

Deutsche did not respond to detailed questions from S&P Global Market Intelligence regarding the verbal deal FBME employees referenced. Instead, a New York-based spokesman, Troy Gravitt, told S&P Global Market Intelligence in an email in July: "We severed our relationship with FBME in 2014. We have increased our anti-financial crime staff and controls in recent years and take our responsibilities under the [anti-money laundering] laws very seriously."

Frankfurt-based Commerzbank and Vienna-based Raiffeisen Bank International, two of FBME's other correspondent banks, "never raised the issue of the UBO name not being disclosed throughout the duration of the relationship," Khachatryan said in 2014, in response to questions about other banks that accepted anonymous transfers from FBME. "No one complained, neither DB nor Commerzbank nor Raiffeisen," the lawyers' memos quote her as saying, although there is no indication that Commerzbank or Raiffeisen ever cut an explicit deal to overlook the missing data.

"Commerzbank takes compliance very seriously and is committed to ensuring that its business fully complies with legal and regulatory requirements," spokesman Max Bicker said in an email responding to detailed questions about FBME, adding that it does not comment on "client relationships."

"RBI has systems in place to make sure that we are not processing payments that do not contain all required information," Vienna-based spokeswoman Ingrid Krenn-Ditz said in an email, also responding to questions about FBME. "Especially originators and beneficiaries are a necessity in a transaction because otherwise banks would not be in the position to credit the money accordingly and the funds would be returned by the beneficiary bank," Krenn-Ditz added, saying the bank was never fined for breaches "in this regard."

FBME and the three counterparties were simply ignoring the guidelines from EU and local regulators calling for transparency in payments and transfers, Khachatryan added. "[The] first case of actually providing UBO name was post-FinCEN. We just didn't type the name and send it to them," she said.

Khachatryan told the lawyers that FBME took the acceptance of unnamed wire transfers by its correspondent banks — chiefly Deutsche — as a sign that concealing the beneficiary was in fact acceptable practice, although it has since emerged that, on occasion, the UBO was linked to companies involved in the development of deadly sarin gas for the Syrian government.

"If there had been a problem, you would expect to hear from your clearers, but they were happy," she said.

Private investigators hired by FBME found in late 2014 that Khachatryan used a forged Harvard degree to bolster her credentials as a highly trained professional leading the bank's compliance function, according to other internal and confidential files seen by S&P Global Market Intelligence.

The memos show that another then-employee of FBME, Andreas Panayides, who had the job title of group consultant, said he had personally struck the anonymity deal with an unspecified Deutsche Bank representative at a face-to-face meeting in Greece. He said he had promised that FBME would respond fully to all inquiries from Deutsche, except those related to UBOs, and the German bank's representative readily accepted.

"I had some conversations with Deutsche Bank in Greece that if you want the UBO, come here and I'll show it to you," he told lawyers, without specifying the date. "We came to an agreement. It wasn't in writing, but we said we'd give them anything they wanted. But if they wanted to see the UBOs, they could come and we'd give them the file," said Panayides, a former head of compliance at FBME, adding that his intention was to avoid "sending it in writing" in order to uphold FBME's characteristic secrecy, a big draw for clients all over the world.

A third FBME employee, George Rodger, who was a compliance officer under Khachatryan, confirmed that he knew about the unwritten pact Deutsche Bank had made with Panayides in Greece, the files reveal. He added that nobody at the bank, including himself, saw anything wrong with the deal.

A pattern of infringement

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Deutsche Bank has incurred hundreds of millions in fines for failings related to money laundering compliance from regulators in Europe, the U.S. and elsewhere since FBME was closed. It is unclear if the bank has ever been fined specifically for failing to reject anonymous money transfers from FBME.

Various authorities in the U.S. fined Commerzbank $1.45 billion in 2015 for money laundering and sanctions violations, and the New York state financial regulator ordered several bank employees fired, although they were later reinstated after appealing under German employment law.

RBI, which does not have a significant presence in the U.S. market, was fined €2.75 million by its home regulator in March 2018 for breaches relating to identification of UBOs. The Austrian bank was among those named in the Panama Papers, a trove of leaked documents from offshore law firm Mossack Fonseca.

In its notice of finding against FBME, FinCEN said the rogue bank made at least 4,500 suspicious transfers totaling $875 million between November 2006 and March 2013 through its U.S. counterparties. Deutsche was the largest of those counterparties, although none is specifically named in the notice.

Although it is not known how much money was transferred between FBME and the other two banks mentioned by Khachatryan, a document obtained by S&P Global Market Intelligence says FBME still had €362.2 million in its correspondent account with Commerzbank on July 1, 2016, two years after FBME's initial designation. At the same date, RBI held €219.3 million for FBME and Deutsche €1.82 million.

The value of all cross-border correspondent banking payments between companies was $160 trillion in 2014, consultancy McKinsey has estimated. Deutsche Bank has consistently been in the top 10 in global transaction banking, according to Coalition, a research firm that is part of S&P Global Inc. The German bank was the fifth-largest transaction handler by revenue in 2017, Coalition said, without publishing the exact figure.

FBME marketing material highlighted its ability to protect client confidentiality, and it targeted wealthy foreigners who lived outside Cyprus, offering them a gateway to the EU and the dollar market. S&P Global Market Intelligence and other publications exposed the bank as having participated in client money laundering and sanctions evasion by opening shell companies and preparing fraudulent paperwork.

Rodger, Khachatryan and Panayides could not be located for comment, including via social media and through the Cypriot authorities.

One of Deutsche's directors of financial crime prevention, Douglas Sloan, warned the Cypriot bank in early 2014 that U.S. authorities were looking into its activity prior to FinCEN issuing its official decision, according to emails leaked to S&P Global Market Intelligence and other media outlets.

The emails between Sloan, Khachatryan and Charles Charalambous, FBME's head of deposits, show the three discussing the potential actions of U.S. law enforcement against the Cypriot bank, with Sloan expressing concern about any written mention of his warnings.

"During our recent meeting in Nicosia you mentioned about a number of accounts maintained with FBME which are on the radar of U.S. law enforcement authorities and you advised that you might be able to provide us with more information at a later stage," Khachatryan wrote to Sloan. "I would be grateful if you could at least disclose the accounts to us, if you are still not able to tell us the details of the law enforcement cases, in order for us to take appropriate action."

Sloan reacted with apparent alarm, saying:

"Please refrain from using such written references to law enforcement, as I have not provided any specific details and I would not want someone to get the wrong impression/interpretation were they to see your email." U.S. laws ban the tipping off of potential suspects of ongoing investigations.

The emails show that, prior to this conversation, Sloan handed FBME representatives a list of 61 accounts that were of concern to Deutsche's New York office, where he appears still to work. The files leaked to S&P Global Market Intelligence say he cut all communication with FBME after this exchange. He could not be reached for comment.

Although Deutsche Bank kept its correspondent relationship with FBME open until after the FinCEN notice in 2014, JPMorgan Chase & Co. ended its in 2009 because of concerns over potential money laundering, the records obtained by S&P Global Market Intelligence show, pointing to several occasions on which JPMorgan queried payments to high-risk countries and individuals.


Banking & Financial Services
C&I Loan Growth Pops In Q2, But Tax Reform’s Role Remains Unclear

Jul. 31 2018 — Business loan growth popped in the second quarter, but bankers are hesitant to attribute the jump to tax reform or a broader turnaround in business spending.

The year-over-year increase in commercial-and-industrial loans increased to more than 5% for all banks in June, the highest figure in more than a year, according to Federal Reserve data. Smaller U.S. banks — defined by the Fed as those outside the 25 largest banks — posted double-digit growth for all three months of the second quarter.

Those numbers were artificially inflated by banks' acquisition of $24.9 billion of C&I loans from nonbanks. Accounting for those one-time acquisitions, organic C&I loan growth for smaller banks was still robust at 7% in June.

Ever since Republicans passed tax reform at the end of 2017, business optimism has been high and bankers have been hopeful the sentiment will trigger a rebound in business loan growth. C&I loan growth was less than 1% when tax reform passed.

Though C&I loan growth enjoyed a significant bounce in the second quarter, several bankers were not declaring victory. Numerous bank executives attributed the jump to an increase in merger-and-acquisition activity, not increased business spending.

M&T Bank Corp. said M&A activity was hurting its average loan growth, which declined by less than 1% on a quarter-over-quarter basis. The bank's CFO said businesses are selling significant assets and using the proceeds to pay down their loans.

One bank did say tax reform was boosting loan growth. SunTrust Banks Inc. reported an increase in the second quarter for its average performing loans figure, a turnaround from the first quarter when the figure declined on a linked-quarter basis.

"I think we are starting to see some of that [benefit from tax stimulus]," said Chairman and CEO William Rogers Jr. in the bank's earnings call.

But Rogers appeared to be in the minority. Several bankers said it was too early to tell whether tax reform was playing much of a role in the C&I loan growth. JPMorgan Chase & Co. reported a 3% quarter-over-quarter increase in its C&I loans in the second quarter and attributed the gain to M&A financing, not tax reform.

"We've yet to see the full effect of tax reform flow through into profitability and free cash flow," Lake said during the bank's earnings call.

Some bankers, including JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon, pointed to brewing trade wars as potential headwinds to loan growth.

Tariffs and trade-related issues are "probably the primary concern that we're hearing from customers right now," said Comerica Inc. President Curt Farmer.

Jeff Rulis, an analyst with D.A. Davidson, said he was not even sure the second-quarter C&I loan growth figures represented a notable change.

"I'm not convinced we're seeing a turnaround or significant pick-up. You have to take into account seasonal pick-up, and the first calendar quarter is generally slow," he said.

There is an argument that tax reform might actually be dampening loan growth. Rulis attributed high payoffs to the mixed results across the sector with some banks reporting robust loan growth by taking market share, contributing to others' more marginal results. Businesses are having an easier time making those payoffs thanks to tax reform, which freed up capital to pay down debt.

"One of the disadvantages of tax reform is you've both lowered the corporate tax rate and repatriated assets to the U.S. That's given more liquidity to the borrowers," said Peter Winter, an analyst with Wedbush Securities.

Year-over-year increases for total loans were up modestly, as weak commercial real estate loan growth moderated the gains from C&I. The 25 largest banks, in particular, reported soft commercial real estate loan growth with year-over-year declines in March, April and May — the first such drops since 2013. Several banks reported an intentional pullback from the sector due to credit quality concerns. Some pointed to nonbank competition as being particularly aggressive on both pricing and deal structure.

"I think banks, for the most part, are showing more credit discipline coming out of the financial crisis," Winter said. "Quite honestly, we're nine years into this recovery, so I think that's a prudent thing to do."

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Jul. 30 2018 — Joe Fenech, head of equity research at Hovde Group, discussed current bank stock valuations, the growing importance of deposits in valuing franchises and the market's increased skepticism toward M&A, including transactions that appear favorable for the buyer.

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Banking & Financial Services
Loans And Deposits Continue Uphill Climb At US Banks In June

Jul. 26 2018 — Average total loans and leases at U.S. commercial banks increased by $44.10 billion to $9.347 trillion in June, according to the Federal Reserve's July 13 H.8 report.

Loan growth was driven primarily by a $19.8 billion increase in commercial and industrial, a $9.4 billion jump in real estate and an $8.3 billion increase in commercial real estate.

Average loans and leases at large commercial banks increased $18.7 billion month over month, while average loans and leases at small commercial banks were up $21.7 billion. Loans and leases at foreign-related institutions increased by $3.4 billion.

Meanwhile, average total deposits at U.S. commercial banks increased by $56.4 billion in June, compared to a $35.4 billion increase in May. Total deposits were up $448.4 billion from June 2017.

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Credit Analysis
Peeking Into The Future Without Staring At A Crystal Ball: Brexit Scenarios And Their Impact On Energy Firms’ Credit Risk

Jul. 24 2018 — After so many years of living and working in London, two years ago I applied for, and was finally granted, British citizenship. Imagine my surprise when, a few weeks later, the UK European Union referendum took place and the majority of voters opted for Brexit!

As a dual national, both European and British, I feel twice the pain of an uncertain future and sometimes I wish I had a crystal ball.

While it is hard to predict how the whole separation process will pan out, S&P Global Market Intelligence offers a new statistical model that allows users to understand how firms’ credit risk on either side of the ocean may change under multiple exit scenarios. The Credit Analytics Macro-scenario model covers the United States, Canada and European Union countries plus the United Kingdom (EU27+1). In addition, the model can be run via the S&P Global Ratings’ Economists macro-economic multi-year forecasts, tailored for this specific model and updated on a quarterly basis.1

Figure 1 shows the Economists’ forecasts of the inputs used in our statistical model for EU27+1, for year-end 2018, 2019 and 2020.

Source: S&P Global Market Intelligence (as of June 2018). For illustrative purposes only. L/S ECB Interest rate spread is the spread between long-term and short-term ECB interest rates. Y-Axis is % of; GDP Growth, Stoxx50 Growth, Interest Rate Spread or FTSE100 Growth, depending on the correlating symbol as described in the key.

The expectation is for economic growth to slow-down in the EU27+1. This will be accompanied by progressive monetary policy tightening and a volatile performance of the stock market index growth. This view is aligned with the baseline scenario included in the European Banking Authority (EBA) and the Bank of England (BoE) 2018 stress testing exercise that “[…] reflects the average of a range of possible outcomes from the UK’s trading relationship with the EU”.2

Figure 2 shows the evolution of the median credit score of Energy sector (left panel) and Utility sector (right panel) large-revenue companies in EU27+1, obtained by running the economists’ forecasts via the Macro-scenario model.3 The median score for 2017 is generated via S&P Global Market Intelligence’s CreditModelTM 2.6 Corporates, a statistical model that uses company financials and is trained on credit ratings from S&P Global Ratings.4 The model offers an automated solution to assess the credit risk of numerous counterparties, globally. The scores are mapped to a numerical scale where, for instance, bb- (left panel, left scale) is mapped to 13.0; a deterioration by 1 notch corresponds to an increase of one integer on the numerical scales.

Figure 2: Evolution of the median credit score of Energy and Utility sector companies in EU27+1, based on S&P Global Economists’ macro-economic forecasts run via the Macro-scenario model.

Source: S&P Global Market Intelligence (as of June 2018). For illustrative purposes only.

Starting from 2017, we see a higher level of credit risk in the UK (red line) than in EU27 (blue line); in subsequent years, the median credit risk increases on both sides of the Channel but the “risk fork” between the UK and EU27 tends to widen up at the expenses of the UK, for both sectors.5

Despite the fact that the median credit score may not change sizably between 2017 and 2020, remaining below half a notch overall in all cases, it is worth keeping in mind that the probability of default (PD) associated with a credit score changes in line with the economic cycle, and thus increases (decreases) during periods of contraction (expansion).

In our model, we account for this effect by first mapping the credit score output to a long-run average PD; next we scale it via a “Credit Cycle Adjustment” (CCA) that looks at the ratio between the previous year and the long-run average default rate historically experienced in S&P Global Ratings’ rated universe.6 If we adjust the long-run average PD via the CCA, we can easily identify potential build-up of default risk pockets in different countries within the EU27+1 as time evolves, as shown in the animations within Figure 3. Green refers to a lower PD than 2017, orange refers to a higher PD than 2017, and red refers to a PD breaching a pre-defined threshold (4.5% for Energy Sector and 0.3% for Utilities sector).7

Figure 3: Potential pockets of default risk in Energy and Utility sector companies in EU27+1, based on S&P Global Economists’ forecast.

Energy Sector Utility Sector
Default Risk in Energy map Default Risk in Utilities map

Source: S&P Global Market Intelligence (as of June 2018). For illustrative purposes only. Green refers to a lower PD than 2017, orange refers to a higher PD than 2017, and red refers to a PD breaching a pre-defined threshold (4.5% for Energy Sector and 0.3% for Utilities sector).

With the Macro-scenario model, we aimed for a user friendly model, and took into account the strong economic ties within EU27+1, the existence of a common market and the circulation of a shared currency in the majority of the EU countries, in order to select a parsimonious yet statistically significant set of inputs (just imagine otherwise forecasting multiple macro-economic scenarios for 28 individual countries, over multiple years).8

Readers may wonder how the model differentiates the evolution of credit risk by country if it uses a limited set of aggregate macro-economic factors (e.g. EU28 GDP growth, etc.) across EU27+1. Nine separate sub-models were actually optimized, based on economic commonalities and historical evolution of the S&P Global Ratings transitions in those countries, to account for the existence of different EU “sub-regional” economies (for instance Nordic countries as opposed to Eastern European countries). For the UK, we went one step further, by explicitly including a market indicator, the FTSE100, as a precautionary measure given a potential “full decoupling” of EU27 and UK economies in the near future.

Well, so far so good, at least in the case of a “soft” Brexit! But what if we end up with a “hard” Brexit?

The EBA and the BoE 2018 stress testing exercise include a stressed scenario that “[…] encompasses a wide range of economic risks that could be associated with {hard} Brexit”.9 The scenario corresponds to a prolonged recessionary period, with negative GDP growth for several years and a generalized collapse of the stock markets, similar to what happened during the 2008 global recession. Unsurprisingly, the median credit score output by our macro-scenario model companies significantly deteriorates for both Energy and Utility sector. Figure 4 shows the build-up of potential default risk pockets and their evolution over time, under stressed economic conditions, depicting a bleak view over the length of time needed for a recovery of these sectors.10

Figure 4: Potential pockets of default risk in Energy and Utility sector companies in EU27+1, based on EBA’s and BoE’s 2018 stressed scenario.

Energy Sector Utility Sector
Default Risk in Energy map Default Risk in Utilities map

Source: S&P Global Market Intelligence (as of June 2018). For illustrative purposes only. Green refers to a lower PD than 2017, orange refers to a higher PD than 2017, and red refers to a PD breaching a pre-defined threshold (4.5% for Energy Sector and 0.3% for Utilities sector).

I do not have yet a crystal ball to predict the future, e.g. whether petrol will cost more or less, or whether I will be paying higher utility bills in the UK as opposed to (the rest of) the European Union, but S&P Global Market Intelligence’s Macro-Scenario allows gauging potential credit risk changes in individual countries, under a soft or a hard Brexit scenario. More in general, the Macro-Scenario model offers a quick, scalable and automated way to assess credit risk transitions under multiple scenarios, thus equipping risk managers at financial and non-financial corporations with a tool that enables them to make decisions with conviction.

Notes

1 The macro-economic forecasts will become available on the S&P Capital IQ platform from 2018Q4. S&P Global Ratings does not contribute to or participate in the creation of credit scores generated by S&P Global Market Intelligence.

2 Source: “Stress Testing Exercise 2018” available at http://www.eba.europa.eu/risk-analysis-and-data/eu-wide-stress-testing/2018. The baseline scenario is the consensus estimate among EU27+1 Central Banks.

3 The results of this analysis depend on the portfolio composition. In addition, other industry sectors may react differently from the Energy and Utility sectors.

4 S&P Global Ratings does not contribute to or participate in the creation of credit scores generated by S&P Global Market Intelligence. Lowercase nomenclature is used to differentiate S&P Global Market Intelligence credit scores from the credit ratings issued by S&P Global Ratings.

5 The 2017 median score for the Utility sector is better than the score for the Energy sector, due to the inherently higher risk of companies in the latter.

6 An optional market-view adjustment is available within the macro-scenario model. In our analysis, we did not include this adjustment, for the sake of simplicity.

7 4.5% (0.3%) is close to the historical long-run average default rate of companies rated B- (BBB-) by S&P Global Ratings.

8 This is also one of the reasons we found it unnecessary to include oil price for the modelling of credit risk of the energy sector in EU27+1, as we found the stock market growth was sufficient.

9 Source: “Stress Testing Exercise 2018” available at http://www.eba.europa.eu/risk-analysis-and-data/eu-wide-stress-testing/2018. The baseline scenario is the consensus estimate among EU27+1 Central Banks. Curly brackets refer to the author’s addition.

10 We adopt the same colour conventions as in Figure 3.

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