(March 19): Talks to contain the crisis of confidence in Credit Suisse Group AG extended into Sunday (March 19), with Swiss officials and UBS Group AG racing to put together a deal to take over or break up the battered lender before markets open in Asia.
The parties are seeking to navigate thorny issues such as a government backstop and the fate of Credit Suisse’s investment bank, after UBS put aside its initial opposition to a deal with the smaller rival, people briefed on the discussions said. UBS is asking the Swiss government to take on certain legal costs and potential future losses in any takeover, said the people, with one report putting the figure at about US$6 billion.
The complex discussions over what would be the first combination of two global systemically important banks since the financial crisis have seen Swiss and US authorities weigh in, some of the people said. Talks accelerated Saturday, with all sides pushing for a solution that can be executed quickly after a week that saw clients pull money and counterparties step back from some dealings with Credit Suisse. The goal is for an announcement by Sunday evening at the latest, the people said.
Under one likely scenario, the deal would involve UBS acquiring Credit Suisse to obtain its wealth and asset management units, while possibly divesting the investment banking division, the people said. Talks are ongoing on the fate of Credit Suisse’s profitable Swiss universal bank, which is likely appealing to UBS but may leave the country’s domestic banking sector too concentrated, the people said, asking not to be identified describing private discussions.
Representatives for UBS, Credit Suisse, and the Swiss finance ministry declined to comment.
A government-brokered deal would address a rout in Credit Suisse that sent shock waves across the global financial system over the past week when panicked investors dumped its shares and bonds following the collapse of several smaller US lenders. A liquidity backstop by the Swiss central bank briefly arrested the declines, but the market drama carries the risk that clients or counterparties would continue fleeing, with potential ramifications for the broader industry.
Other financial firms including Deutsche Bank AG are monitoring the situation in case attractive Credit Suisse assets go on the block either in a UBS acquisition or other form of breakup, according to people briefed on those discussions.
The discussions raise questions over the future of Credit Suisse’s bold plan to spin out its investment banking unit under the storied First Boston brand. The firm had been working to legally and operationally separate the business that would become CS First Boston, but those efforts are in nascent stages. Chief executive officer Ulrich Koerner has said the firm was looking at a potential initial public offering for the business in 2025.
Credit Suisse has also been shrinking its trading business, but that still carries a large chunk of the bank’s capital requirements.
“The investment bank is the bit that most people want to spin off,” said James Athey, investment director at Abrdn. “That’s likely where a lot of these exposures are. So that’s the challenge that needs addressing.”
UBS executives had been opposed to an arranged combination with its rival because they wanted to focus on their own wealth management-centric strategy and were reluctant to take on risks related to Credit Suisse, Bloomberg reported earlier. Credit Suisse has been unprofitable over the course of the last decade and has racked up billions in legal losses.
Credit Suisse had 1.2 billion Swiss francs (US$1.3 billion) in legal provisions at the end of 2022 and disclosed that it saw reasonably possible losses adding another 1.2 billion francs to that total, with several lawsuits and regulatory probes outstanding, according to Bloomberg Intelligence.
Credit Suisse’s market value has plunged to about 7.4 billion Swiss francs, from a 2007 peak of more than 100 billion francs. UBS’s market value is 60 billion francs. Clients pulled more than US$100 billion of assets in the final three months of last year as concerns mounted about its financial health, and the outflows have continued even after it tapped shareholders in a 4 billion franc capital raise.
A fusion between the two Swiss banking giants, whose headquarters face each other across Zurich’s central Paradeplatz square, would be an historic event for the nation and global finance.
The two banks, both counted by the Financial Stability Board as systemically relevant globally, are interlinked through frequent exchanges of executives from one side of Paradeplatz to the other. Both chairman Axel Lehmann and CEO Koerner are former decision-makers at UBS.
UBS offers to buy Credit Suisse for up to US$1 bil — FT
UBS, regulators race to seal Credit Suisse deal as soon as Saturday — FT
Deutsche Bank eyeing some Credit Suisse assets — sources
BlackRock says not participating in any Credit Suisse takeover plan
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UBS exploring Credit Suisse deal in crisis combination — sources