* FY net profit 259.8 mln Sfr vs 256 mln estimate in Reuters poll
* 0.10 Sfr/share special dividend, 1.90 ordinary dividend
* 15.7 bln Sfr in 2016 outflows at Quality Growth boutique
* CEO says 2017 will “not be an easy year” (Recasts, adds comments from CEO and analyst, market reaction)
By Joshua Franklin
ZURICH, Feb 8 (Reuters) - Swiss bank and asset manager Vontobel on Wednesday struck a cautious tone for 2017 following a year marked by billions of dollars in outflows at its flagship emerging market fund.
With the stock hovering around a nine-year high, Vontobel posted full-year net profit of 259.8 million Swiss francs ($260.4 million), up 47 percent thanks in part to the sale of its stake in Helvetia Holding AG. This was roughly in line with market expectations.
The Helvetia sale allowed the bank to offer a special dividend of 0.10 franc per share, on top of an ordinary dividend of 1.90 francs per share.
However, Chief Executive Zeno Staub said the first few weeks of 2017 had indicated that it will “not be an easy year” and there will be no repeat of the one-off items that boosted 2016 earnings. He later said he was happy with the bank’s performance in January, without elaborating.
Vontobel shares were down 1.7 percent in early trading.
The bank also saw 15.7 billion francs in outflows last year at its main emerging market fund, the Quality Growth boutique, following the departure of star money manager Rajiv Jain.
Client assets at the fund fell to 33.2 billion francs by the end of 2016. Vontobel’s total assets under management were 138.5 billion francs at the end of last year.
“It (the outflows) is worse than expected,” said Andreas Brun, a banking analyst at Mirabaud Securities LLP who has not initiated coverage on the stock. “And the outlook is neutral to negative.”
Jain left Vontobel in May to start his own venture. Through the Quality Growth boutique, Jain was a significant force behind much of the growth in Vontobel’s asset management business, one of its three divisions along with private banking and investment banking.
Investors also withdrew money from the emerging market fund in favour of developed markets due to signs the political climate is shifting towards a less pro-free-trade environment, Staub said.
“Our viewpoint on this is we think, mid-term, emerging markets will come back,” Staub said. “Whatever happens to global free trade, the 600, 700, 800 million people who are approaching middle class in these arenas of the world will not stop just because there is another trade barrier from a developed market.”
$1 = 0.9977 Swiss francs Reporting by Joshua Franklin; Editing by Michael Shields