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The Five Dumbest Things on Wall Street This Week: Dec. 14

3. HSBC's Own Goal

Sorry, Lionel Messi, but you weren't the only one in Europe breaking a long-held record this week. It looks like HSBC (HBC) shattered a major milestone as well.

Two days after the Barcelona soccer superstar eclipsed German great Gerd Mueller's 40-year-old mark for most goals in a calendar year by scoring for the 86th time in 2012, Europe's largest bank agreed to pay a record $1.9 billion to settle a U.S. money-laundering probe. The sum HSBC is paying for its role in transferring funds through the U.S. from Mexican drug cartels and on behalf of sanctioned nations like Iran breaks down into $1.25 billion in forfeiture and $655 million in civil penalties.

Also getting booked Tuesday -- to stick with the European football theme -- was fellow British banking giant Standard Chartered (SCBFF), which signed an agreement with New York regulators to settle a money-laundering investigation involving Iran with a $340 million payment.

You see, folks, let this be a lesson to you. If you don't play by the rules, eventually the market's referees will catch you in the act and sternly warn you with a yellow card.

Of course, major international players like HSBC and Standard Chartered never have to be too worried about regulators flashing a red and ejecting them from the game entirely. Seriously, these guys traded with the enemy and they are still on the proverbial pitch! Even worse, if they do it again -- and they probably will in some form -- we doubt they will ever get the boot.

Shares of HSBC rose slightly on the resolution, so, clearly, investors are already looking past this moral and legal stumble. The fine also won't trip up the bank too much since it only amounts to roughly 10% of its 2012 pretax profits. In 2011, the bank booked $18 billion in net income on revenue of $106 billion.

"We accept responsibility for our past mistakes," said HSBC Chief Executive Stuart Gulliver. "We have said we are profoundly sorry for them, and we do so again."

Good for you, Gulliver. And, by the way, welcome to the team! HSBC and Standard Chartered now join an already deep bench of Credit Suisse, Barclays, Lloyds and ING as banks that have ponied up big settlements in the past three years for trading with countries or companies that are on the U.S. sanctions list.

Here's hoping they set their goals a little higher in the future.
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