BOSTON – FleetBoston Financial Corp. said on Monday it will delay releasing its quarterly results until later this month because it wants time to assess how the financial crisis in Argentina will affect the bank's sizable loan book in the country.
Argentina is still working out details of plans to cope with widespread economic turmoil, including moves to compensate banks for potential losses on consumer loans. FleetBoston wants to wait until plans solidify before calculating any charges and releasing earnings, analysts said.
The Boston-based bank was originally scheduled to release results on Wednesday.
``Delaying earnings makes incredible sense to us,'' Christopher Mutascio, an analyst at Legg Mason, said. ``You're still getting information on the Argentine economic plan trickling down. Would you rather report earnings and have a conference call and have more questions than answers? ... Why not give yourself a week or two to see if more information comes out and develops from the Argentine economic plan, and then you release earnings, you have a charge in the fourth quarter, and you can talk intelligently on the conference call and answer questions as opposed to saying you just don't know.''
Apart from further steps it might have to take related to the currency devaluation and other economic measures in Argentina, FleetBoston said its fourth-quarter earnings will be in line with the 3 cents per share, including charges, it forecast in December.
FleetBoston has about $6 billion in loans plus $475 million in government debt in Argentina, where it has operated for 85 years. Last month it announced a $150 million charge to write down Argentine government securities and loans, bringing total Argentine-related charges to $200 million last year.
``Many complex issues are involved,'' FleetBoston Chief Financial Officer Eugene McQuade said in a statement, ``and the additional time will permit a fuller understanding of the government's new economic programs as well as a more informed dialogue with the investment community on its impact.''
Analysts have estimated FleetBoston could take as much as an additional $500 million to $600 million charge in the fourth quarter to write down the value of its roughly $1.9 billion consumer loan portfolio in Argentina.
A government decision to let borrowers repay loans of $100,000 or less in pesos instead of dollars would mean banks might get less money back for those loans. Plus, Argentina's move to devalue its peso currency could squeeze cash-strapped companies struggling to repay larger dollar debts.
The bank's problems in Argentina stem from its long-standing presence in the country, not management missteps, Mutascio said.
``This is an economic risk of doing business down there,'' said Mutascio. ``I don't think there's anything different they could have done to protect their balance sheet in Argentina, except getting out of there and I don't think that was even under consideration. They've been there for so long.''
The stock fell 16 cents to $33.26 on Monday on the New York Stock Exchange trade. The stock has dropped 14 percent since Dec. 19, when it announced charges.
About $4 billion of its Argentina loan portfolio is money lent to large multinational companies, which might be safer although details of the government's economic proposals are still emerging from in Argentina, Mutascio said.