NEW YORK (Reuters) - HSBC Holdings (HSBA.L), Europe’s biggest bank, said on Friday that it would close its U.S. subprime mortgage unit, cutting 750 jobs and taking $945 million (468 million pounds) in charges and write-downs, because the business is no longer sustainable.
For London-based HSBC, which is under pressure from activist investors to shake up its corporate governance, it was the latest blow from the meltdown in the U.S. market for loans to home buyers with poor credit histories.
HSBC Finance, the U.S. consumer finance arm of HSBC, said the closure of Decision One Mortgage would result in people losing their jobs at offices in Fort Mill, South Carolina, Phoenix, Arizona and Charlotte, North Carolina.
“It’s no longer sustainable and not the right place to allocate capital in the future,” HSBC Holdings Group Chief Executive Michael Geoghegan said in a statement.
Dozens of U.S. subprime lenders have curtailed operations, closed down or filed for bankruptcy protection. The subprime crisis has roiled the U.S. housing industry and played a central role in nearly 90,000 job cuts.
HSBC Finance will record an impairment charge of about $880 million, reflecting a write-down of Decision One assets on its books. It also will incur about $65 million in after-tax charges for restructuring that includes employee termination benefits and facility closures.
HSBC acquired Decision One when it bought Household International Inc. in 2003 for $14 billion. Decision One is a small part of HSBC’s U.S. operations, which include auto lending and credit cards.
HSBC, the world’s fourth biggest bank, with a market value of more than $200 billion, has been criticized for the underperformance of its share price in the last five years and its purchase of Household, which has exposed it to the U.S. subprime mortgage crisis.
HSBC’s charge for bad debts was $6.35 billion in the first half of the year, up 63 per cent from $3.89 billion in the same period last year as it continued to suffer from past loans to the hard hit U.S. subprime mortgage sector.
Earlier this year, HSBC Finance got new leadership, which quickly put together a team to examine and monitor credit risk under Chief Executive Brendan McDonagh. The company also stopped buying subprime loans originated by other lenders.
McDonagh told Reuters in an interview that the company will continue to originate subprime loans through its network of more than 1,350 branches.
“Historically, loans originated in branch offices generally perform better,” McDonagh said in a telephone interview. “You are in direct control of the relationship, you underwrite on a one-to-one basis.”
Before Friday’s announcement, Decision One restructured its operations as defaults on risky subprime loans to people with weak credit escalated. The unit centralized loan processing and underwriting and reduced the number of operating centres to two from 17.
Decision One relied on a network of independent mortgage brokers to find borrowers and to submit loan applications, a model that has been curtailed or discontinued by other lenders burned by lax underwriting standards and outright fraud.
In the first six months of this year, HSBC sold about $371 million in loans originated by Decision One to its U.S. bank and recorded a pretax loss of $400,000 from those deals.
In contrast, HSBC booked a $17 million pretax gain on Decision One loan sales during the fourth quarter of 2006, its financial statements show.
Decision One disclosed its plans in a management conference call with its staff that earlier on Friday Reuters reported would take place.
HSBC’s stock is down 2.35 percent this year, outperforming the 6.1 percent decline in the Dow Jones Titans Bank Index .DJTBAK, of which it is a member.
Editing by Brian Moss