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UBS waters down targets on tougher economy, capital rules
November 3, 2015 / 6:52 AM / 2 years ago

UBS waters down targets on tougher economy, capital rules

The logo of Swiss bank UBS is seen at its headquarters Zurich in this July 27, 2015 file photo.Arnd Wiegmann/Files

ZURICH (Reuters) - UBS, Switzerland's biggest bank, watered down some of its financial targets on Tuesday due to a tough economic backdrop and new Swiss capital rules, overshadowing a forecast-beating rise in third-quarter net profit.

Zurich-based UBS said difficult macroeconomic conditions, including slowing growth in China, as well as uncertainty over interest rates and stricter capital rules outlined last month, would hit performance.

It pushed back a targeted adjusted return on tangible equity - a key measure of profitability - of above 15 percent to 2018 from 2016 previously.

The new date comes as UBS looks to meet a regulatory target for its leverage ratio - a measure of capital against debt - of at least 5 percent by the end of 2019, CEO Sergio Ermotti said.

"In the real world things do change and ... regulation and the macroeconomic environment have changed materially," he told analysts in a call. "So we need to adjust both our actions and our expectations accordingly."

UBS said it would still return at least half its profits to shareholders if capital targets were met. The dividend is viewed as one of the main attractions to holding the stock.

But analysts voiced concern that payouts might be lower than expected after the bank said it would increase the value of risk-weighted assets it holds due to changes in regulation since the target was outlined three years ago.

"They will pay out more than 50 percent (of profits), everyone expects that," said Zuercher Kantonalbank's Andreas Brun, with an "overweight" rating on the stock. "But maybe they will not pay out 80 percent anymore but more like 60 percent."

UBS also raised its short to medium-term expectations for its cost/income ratio to 65-75 percent from 60-70 percent.

Its shares were down 5 percent at 19.02 Swiss francs at 1425 GMT, on course for their worst performance since Jan. 16. The European banking sector index was down 1.4 percent.

EARNINGS BEAT

For the third quarter, UBS's net profit rose to 2.1 billion francs ($2.1 billion) from 762 million francs a year earlier when figures were hit by the bank beefing up legal reserves.

The result, the bank's best quarterly performance in more than five years, was ahead of a forecast for 1.76 billion francs in a Reuters poll of four analysts.

Earnings were boosted by a net tax benefit of 1.3 billion francs, largely from an increased valuation of UBS's deferred tax assets which it had flagged in the second quarter and is used to reduce the amount of tax due.

Despite the strong headline number, analysts expressed concern over the performance of UBS's key wealth management unit, where it is the largest global player.

Net new money growth - an important indicator for future revenue in wealth management - was hit by deleveraging in the Asia Pacific amid jitters over the strength of China's economy.

Unadjusted for withdrawals of cash that UBS views as unprofitable, net new money excluding its Americas business was 200 million francs, its lowest quarterly haul since late 2010.

"Wealth management, if you look at the divisions, that was the main negative surprise," Brun said.

Nevertheless, Kepler Cheuvreux analyst Dirk Becker said UBS was still a more attractive bet than European rivals Credit Suisse and Deutsche Bank, which are only now undergoing the sort of restructuring UBS started in 2012.

"It's not like Credit Suisse or Deutsche Bank where we have to go through two bad years to get decent returns," said Becker, who has a 'buy' rating on UBS stock.

FIFA INQUIRIES

On top of the results, UBS said its finance chief would shift roles in a raft of top management changes.

From Jan. 1, current Chief Financial Officer Tom Naratil, who has been in the job since 2011, will take on the dual role of president of UBS's wealth management business in the Americas and president of UBS Americas. Current wealth management finance chief Kirt Gardner will become group CFO.

UBS also said it was cooperating with inquiries from authorities relating to global soccer body FIFA and other member soccer associations and related persons and entities.

It was one of 24 banks mentioned in the U.S. Department of Justice's 164-page charge sheet against high-ranking individuals in FIFA, soccer's governing body. Swiss authorities are also investigating corruption at Zurich-based FIFA.

($1 = 0.9870 Swiss francs)

Additional reporting by Oliver Hirt; Editing by Miral Fahmy and Mark Potter

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