HSBC bid goodbye to the "exciting and unpredictable" Year of the Dragon on Tuesday, celebrating the start of a new lunar year not a moment too soon.

The British bank's U.S. unit spent most of last year — supposedly the luckiest on the Chinese zodiac calendar — buffeted by a money-laundering scandal. In December, it agreed to pay a record $1.92 billion regulatory penalty over lax compliance with anti-laundering rules. So HSBC may have needed an excuse to celebrate by Tuesday, when it threw its annual Chinese New Year party in New York.

While executives at the party didn't dwell on recent news events, they seemed relieved to be entering a new cycle of the zodiac calendar. The Year of the Snake is "said to be reflective of steady progress and will bring a greater attention to detail," HSBC USA Chief Executive Irene Dorner told the crowd gathered in a ballroom of Manhattan's Mandarin Oriental hotel.

HSBC, which has a large presence in Asia, welcomed in the Chinese New Year with its usual ice sculptures, lion dances, speeches and buffet tables full of dim sum and carved suckling pig. (Our favorites were the grapefruit-sized fortune cookies, dipped in dark chocolate, complete with paper fortunes that read, "HSBC wishes you great fortune and success in the Year of the Snake.")

Recently promoted and tan from vacation, Dorner ceded the floor to a performance by New York Philharmonic principal oboist (and HSBC customer) Liang Wang. She spent the rest of the evening mingling with the bank's customers and other guests, including Mark Thompson, the former BBC director and new CEO of The New York Times. (And after a somewhat rocky start in his new job, we suspect that he might also welcome a year of steady progress.)

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