HSBC says US sought documents from the bank on precious-metals dealings

LONDON (Bloomberg) - HSBC said U.S. criminal investigators and commodities regulators have sought documents from the bank on precious-metals dealings, as probes into manipulation of gold and silver prices spread beyond Europe.

The Justice Department in November asked HSBC to voluntarily provide information on precious metals in a criminal antitrust investigation, and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission subpoenaed a U.S. unit in January for documents on metals trading, the bank said in its annual report Monday.

"These matters are at an early stage," HSBC said in the report. "It is not practicable at this time for HSBC to predict the resolution of these matters, including the timing or any possible impact." The lender said it's cooperating.

Fixings, price-setting rituals dating back a century for gold, silver, platinum and palladium, are being overhauled as scrutiny increases over how market benchmarks are set. Switzerland's regulator said in November that it found "serious misconduct" by UBS employees in precious metals trading. Barclays was fined in May by the Financial Conduct Authority after a trader sought to influence the gold fix in 2012.

HSBC, Barclays and Deutsche Bank are among banks that have been sued in the U.S. over claims they conspired to manipulate precious metals prices for years.

London-based HSBC also is under a five-year deferred prosecution agreement with the Justice Department from a previous money-laundering settlement. The agreement requires the bank to cooperate in other probes.

The U.S. look at precious metals comes on top of probes into European firms by the Justice Department into rigging of interbank lending rates and manipulation of currency benchmarks.