Rising uncertainty in Hong Kong could trigger more loan losses at U.S. banks similar to the $50 million hit First Chicago NBD Corp. suffered Monday when Peregrine Investment Holdings collapsed.
"There's certainly a possibility there will be more corporate losses," said Lawrence Cohn, a banking analyst with Ryan, Beck & Co. "I don't see any desire on the part of the Hong Kong authorities to bail out corporate credits."
First Chicago last April acted as co-lead and arranger on a one-year, revolving $110 million loan to Peregrine, a Hong Kong investment bank, according to Loan Pricing Corp., New York. The credit was mainly a commercial paper backstop.
It is not clear how much of the credit First Chicago retained on its books, but well-placed sources put the bank's exposure at around $50 million.
Analysts emphasized, however, that any further losses by U.S. banks are likely to be modest, even if the situation continues to deteriorate. That's because banks' exposure is relatively small compared with their capital base and loss reserves.
First Chicago, for example, has $1.4 billion in loan-loss reserves; a $50 million writeoff would not harm earnings.
"My guess is that there will be companies that experience some loss," said Diane Glossman, a banking analyst with Lehman Brothers. But for most, "they will be pretty easily managed."
Even so, the events in Hong Kong-until recently viewed as a bastion of stability-underscored the volatility of the Asian financial crisis. South Korea has been the focal point in recent weeks; banks are arranging a bailout for the nation, which owes foreign creditors an estimated $156 billion and came close to defaulting in December.
Peregrine's collapse triggered a sharp fall in the local stock market and increased pressure on the Hong Kong dollar.
"The situation certainly has weakened," said George Salem, a banking analyst with Gerard Klauer Mattison & Co., New York. "Hong Kong is still very high grade, but if it fell the foundations of Asia would crumble."
In Hong Kong, Peregrine executives said that First Chicago NBD's refusal last week to extend an additional $60 million line of credit forced the company into bankruptcy. A spokesman for First Chicago NBD declined to comment on the accusations.
One U.S. bank that may have some exposure to Peregrine is Chase Manhattan Corp., which was agent on a $200 million loan to the company 14 months ago, Loan Pricing said. A Chase spokesman declined to comment.
Some other lenders to Peregrine were said to include Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corp., Deutsche Bank, Societe Generale, and Credit Suisse.
U.S. banks had some $13 billion in claims on Hong Kong borrowers at the end of August, according to data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Of that, around $6 billion is believed to be cross-border loans of varying maturities.
First Chicago has gradually increased its Hong Kong presence since the early 1980s. The bank owns 25% of CCIC Finance Ltd., a merchant banking company, and was scheduled to take a 3% stake in Peregrine for $25 million, but pulled back Friday after completing due diligence.