Putin grants HSBC approval to sell Russian unit to Expobank

Credit: REUTERS/TYRONE SIU

Putin signs decree allowing HSBC to sell Russian unit

Foreign banks require presidential approval for deals

Proposed buyer, Expobank is under U.S. sanctions

This content was produced in Russia where the law restricts coverage of Russian military operations in Ukraine

Updates headline, adds bullets

MOSCOW, Feb 19 (Reuters) - Russian President Vladimir Putin gave approval on Monday for HSBC HSBA.L to sell its Russian unit to privately-owned Expobank, paving the way for the British lender to extricate itself from the Russian market after months of negotiations.

HSBC said in June 2022 that it had agreed to sell a 100% stake in the unit, HSBC Bank (RR) LLC, to Expobank. Moscow has steadily tightened restrictions on foreign asset sales since then, with banks requiring Putin's approval for any deal.

HSBC and Expobank did not immediately respond to emailed requests for comment.

The decree raises the prospect of a full exit from Russia for HSBC, whose global business spans China and the United States, just before it is due to present to investors on Wednesday full-year earnings for 2023.

HSBC said last year it had taken a $300 million loss on the expected sale of its Russian business. Moscow demands discounts of at least 50% on foreign asset sales, and Western banks have found it particularly difficult to fully cut ties.

Monday's order said it was allowing Expobank to acquire 100% of the unit, owned by HSBC Europe BV.

The order cited an Aug. 5, 2022 decree signed by Putin, which banned investors from "unfriendly" countries - those that have sanctioned Russia over its actions in Ukraine - from selling shares in key energy projects and banks. That decree gave Putin the power to issue special waivers in certain cases for deals to go ahead.

HSBC, Europe's biggest bank, said in September it would halt commercial payments by business customers to and from Russia and Belarus, with sanctions making it "increasingly challenging" to operate there.

LIMITED IMPACT SEEN

The deal will have a negligible financial impact on HSBC, which has, since announcing its exit from Russia, managed down the size of the already small unit while awaiting approval for the full exit.

HSBC previously told Reuters the Russian unit had revenue of about $15 million, out of a group revenue of more than $50 billion. It employed about 200 people on the eve of the conflictin Ukraine, HSBC's former finance chief Ewen Stevenson said at the time.

Expobank was sanctioned by the United States in December, as part of wide-ranging restrictions aimed at throttling Moscow's energy and financial sectors in the wake of Russia despatching its army to Ukraine in February 2022.

The U.S. Treasury said in December it was imposing sanctions on Expobank "for operating or having operated in the financial services sector of the Russian Federation economy".

The impact of those sanctions on the deal remains to be seen.

Putin's approval is no guarantee of a successful deal. Italian bank Intesa Sanpaolo ISP.MIsecured Putin's approval to sell or dispose of its assets in Russia in September 2023, but has not yet managed to finalise a transaction.

(Reporting by Elena Fabrichnaya and Alexander Marrow; editing by Mark Heinrich and Gareth Jones)

((alexander.marrow@thomsonreuters.com;))

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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