Save a thought for the downtrodden this Christmas. Few in banking are more so than Credit Suisse shareholders. Ulrich Körner, in the bank’s top job for just five months, is implementing a restructuring plan to stave off a client exodus and inevitable collapse.
We applaud the rapid response. But shares in the Swiss bank continue to hover at the lows in its nearly 50 years of public ownership. A few New Year’s resolutions – the subject of today’s entire Lex column – might signal to the market that a reversal of fortune is near.
Körner should start by creating a more trustworthy institution. Risky decisions by previous senior executives have sent the bank’s reputation up the chimney. Hiving off part of the investment bank as CS First Boston to insider and director Michael Klein suggests further conflicts of interest loom.
As for the restructuring itself, make the message clearer please, Mr Körner. Simplification popped up repeatedly throughout the strategy presentation in October. Of the $294bn in risk-weighted assets to squeeze, it is the 60 per cent you are keeping that raises questions.
The cat’s cradle of interconnections adds further confusion: Credit Suisse will sell part, but not all, of the securitised products portfolio. CS First Boston will eventually go independent. Yet a markets division will remain within the core bank to serve wealth management and First Boston. Credit Suisse will retain an as yet undetermined stake in the latter. Fewer internal divisions would make the new proposition easier to understand.
Finally, more ambition on the benefits from this latest rejig would instil some optimism. A target of 6 per cent return on tangible equity in 2025 is one of the lowest in European banking.
Assume that global interest rates do not pancake down to the near-zero of the recent past. Any net interest income benefits from higher rates plus cost-cutting of 15 per cent could well produce a better result.
Low profitability hints at insufficient organic capital growth to come. Already a SFr4bn ($4bn) capital raising has been approved. The last thing long-suffering shareholders need next year is another one to follow.
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