This contagian will not be contained, and is the canary in the coal mine - now dead. HSBC Shares Drop in HK After Profit Warning By REUTERS Published: February 8, 2007 Filed at 2:54 a.m. ET HONG KONG (Reuters) - Shares of HSBC Holdings fell more than 2 percent in Hong Kong on Thursday, after the British lender announced a larger-than-expected 2006 bad debt charge. HSBC's announcement triggered a ratings downgrade by JPMorgan, while Merrill Lynch dropped its earnings forecast ahead of the global bank's expected March 5 results. HK$140.30, lagging a 1.3 percent drop in the benchmark Hang Seng Index (.HSI). The global lender said its charge for bad debts would be more than US$10.5 billion, which was some 20 percent above analyst consensus forecasts, and it cited problems in its U.S. mortgage business for the shortfall. JPMorgan cut its HSBC rating to underweight from neutral and advised investors to sell the stock short, as it had further room to drop, and said the higher bad debt charge would cut its pre-tax earnings estimate by 8 percent. Merrill called HSBC's announcement surprising, as it was the first time in memory that the bank had released material information ahead of its results release. ``We would have to increase our 2006 provision forecast by 24 percent to match the bank's new guidance,'' Merrill said in a research note. ``This would result in a cut of nearly 10 percent to our 2006 net profit forecast of US$16.6 billion for HSBC.'' Merrill reiterated its ``sell'' rating. ``We downgraded HSBC to a sell in early January 2007, highlighting the vulnerability of the bank's share price to negative news flow on the U.S. consumer finance market and consequent earnings downgrades,'' Merrill said. HSBC moved into the U.S. consumer finance market in 2003 when it bought Household International for $14.8 billion, which at the time drew concerns the bank would be too exposed to sub-prime lending, the business of making loans to customers with poor credit histories. Experts have warned that a slowing U.S. economy, coupled with rising borrowing costs, could make for more problem loans from U.S. homeowners.