Audit notes: Chesapeake woes, the Untaxable, Reuters on HSBC

The hits keep coming at Chesapeake Energy.

Today, it’s The Wall Street Journal’s turn. It reports on page one that the company has put $1.4 billion in unreported liabilities off its balance sheet, far more than analysts had estimated.

Most of these costs will hit this year and next, at a time when the company needs to raise substantial cash to cover operating expenses and its move into the more lucrative oil business…

Asset sales, VPPs and other off-balance-sheet debts have helped cover those gaps for several years, but their size, complexity and cost are raising concerns. On Wednesday, Moody’s Investors Service lowered to “negative” the outlook on Chesapeake’s $12 billion in rated, on-the-books debt, in part because it said the VPPs and other deals have raised total debt to $23.6 billion. Chesapeake disagrees that the VPPs are debt.

Chesapeake shares plunged today after it said it would delay a big asset sale because of tumbling gas prices. Forbes’s Christopher Helman:

Chesapeake Energy shares closed down 14% today on wording in an SEC filing that the company might have to write down the value of its assets because of record low gas prices and might have trouble meeting its obligations under bond covenants. As a result, it suggested that it may have to delay much needed asset sales. Simply put, when prices become too low, it is no longer economic for drillers to go after certain gas reservoirs, making those reserves worth less than before.

This story looks like it’s just going to keep getting uglier.

— When you just can’t bear to be taxed relatively lightly on your impending $3.84 billion windfall, go post-national.

Bloomberg News reports that Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin is giving up his American citizenship and implies heavily, with reason, that it’s for tax purposes.

Saverin, 30, joins a growing number of people giving up U.S. citizenship ahead of a possible increase in tax rates for top earners. The Brazilian-born resident of Singapore is one of several people who helped Mark Zuckerberg start Facebook in a Harvard University dormitory and stand to reap billions of dollars after the world’s largest social network holds its IPO.

“Eduardo recently found it more practical to become a resident of Singapore since he plans to live there for an indefinite period of time,” said Tom Goodman, a spokesman for Saverin, in an e-mailed statement.

Besides helping cut tax bills stemming from the Facebook, the move may also help him avoid capital gains taxes on future investments since Singapore doesn’t have a capital gains tax.

Does this guy sound like Quartz’s target demographic or what? The Untaxable.

I’ll digress for this odd Bloomberg digression:

In the film, written by Aaron Sorkin, Saverin was portrayed by Andrew Garfield, who will play Spider-Man in “The Amazing Spider- Man,” due to be released in July.

Thanks for that.

— Make sure to read this Reuters report from last week on allegations by a U.S. Attorney in West Virginia that HSBC “violated the Bank Secrecy Act and other anti-money laundering laws on a massive scale.”

HSBC did so, they say, by not adequately reviewing hundreds of billions of dollars in transactions for any that might have links to drug trafficking, terrorist financing and other criminal activity.

In some of the documents, prosecutors allege that HSBC intentionally flouted the law. The bank created an operation that was a “systemically flawed sham paper-product designed solely to make it appear that the Bank has complied” with the Bank Secrecy Act and is able to detect money laundering, wrote William J. Ihlenfeld II, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of West Virginia, in a draft of a 2010 letter addressed to Justice Department officials.

In that letter, Ihlenfeld compared HSBC unfavorably to Riggs Bank. In 2004 and 2005, that scandal-plagued Washington bank was fined a total of $41 million after it was found to have violated anti-money laundering laws, and it was acquired by PNC Financial Services.

“HSBC is to Riggs, as a nuclear waste dump is to a municipal land fill,” Ihlenfeld wrote.

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum. Tags: , , , ,