HSBC has been one of the biggest subprime lenders in the US ever since it bought
Household International for $15.5 billion in 2003. It was one of the first major
banks to take big subprime-related losses, too, and it doesn’t seem to have
been a player in the CDO market, which has largely protected it from the second
big shoe to drop. But HSBC could now be a harbinger of a third dropping
shoe – unsecured lending. Its results
today are impressive, but the bank did take
a $3.4 billion charge relating not to mortgages but rather to unsecured
personal loans and credit cards.
Nouriel Roubini reckons
the next big downward lurch in the credit markets is going to be commercial
real estate, but at this rate unsecured personal lending might beat it to the
punch. US credit-card debt han’t been spiralling upwards in the same way as
it has in, say, the UK, but there’s still a hell of a lot of it, and the classic
way to get out from under it – by paying it off with a home equity loan
– doesn’t work if you don’t have any equity in your home.