A slump in investment banking revenues pushed Credit Suisse to accelerate its cost-cutting plan as chief executive Tidjane Thiam admitted he had been unaware of trading positions that triggered more big writedowns in the first quarter.
Switzerland’s second-biggest bank said on Wednesday it would shave an additional 800m Swiss francs off costs and cut 2,000 more jobs from its Global Markets division.
The unit is expected to record a 40 to 45pc drop in first-quarter revenues and is selling off holdings of illiquid assets that the bank’s senior management had not had on its radar.
Asked in an analyst call who would be held responsible for about $1bn in losses on its illiquid credit portfolio over the past two quarters, Thiam said things had clearly gone wrong but the bank was now confident the problems had been identified.
“We can’t have the CEO and a CFO in a bank surprised by something like that,” Thiam said on a media call.
Thiam later said he had total confidence in finance chief David Mathers and global markets head Tim O’Hara.
The first quarter is normally the most lucrative period for the industry, when investors put their money to work at the start of the year, but this year revenues have been hit by record low interest rates, low commodity prices and slower growth in emerging markets.
Rival Deutsche Bank’s finance chief said on Tuesday the first two months of 2016 were the worst start to a year for banks that he has seen in his banking career.
Credit Suisse said job cuts would come mostly in London and New York. The latest cuts bring the total to 6,000 job losses announced by Thiam, who took over last year.
“I’m aware that I’m not very popular right now,” Thiam told a banking conference in Zurich. “It’s not my job to be popular. I’m trying to do the right thing.”
Thiam disclosed that he had asked for his 2015 bonus to be cut by 40pc, even more than the 36pc cuts in bonuses for staff in the Global Markets division.
The chief executive from Ivory Coast is five months into implementing his new strategy. He raised around 6bn Swiss francs in capital last year and is cutting back Credit Suisse’s volatile investment banking business while focusing on more stable wealth management.
BOWING TO THE INEVITABLE
Credit Suisse shares, which had fallen by more than a third this year, rose 0.9pc on Wednesday.
“This was the restructuring plan investors were hoping for last year,” said George Karamanos, an analyst at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods. “A negative operating environment has forced management to address tough issues it avoided last time around.”
A top-30 investor in the bank added: “I believe he is bowing to the inevitable. In my view the big ‘universal’ banks are, in their current forms, broken models and unmanageable.”
In the statement on Wednesday Credit Suisse increased to “at least” 4.3bn francs its targeted savings by 2018, up from 3.5bn announced in October. It aims for 1.7bn francs in cost savings in 2016 and is likely to make a first-quarter loss after exceptional items, Thiam said.
He declined to say whether 1bn francs in restructuring costs expected this year would allow a 2016 net profit.
Thiam said a combination of high costs, exposure to illiquid inventory in fixed income, “historically low levels of client activity” and challenging market conditions had led to disappointing results at the Global Markets division.
Thiam said that write-downs at Global Markets, which totalled $633m in the fourth quarter, declined in the first quarter to $346m as of March 11. On a brighter note, the bank cited net new money inflows so far this year of 3.6bn francs at its Asia Pacific business, 7.1bn at international wealth management, and 4.5bn at its Swiss universal bank, whose partial public listing in 2017 was on track if market conditions permit.
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