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Credit Suisse serves investors thin gruel as Wall Street feasts on deals

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Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi
·4-min read
FILE PHOTO: Logo of Swiss bank Credit Suisse is seen in Zurich
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By Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi

ZURICH (Reuters) - While Wall Street rivals feast off a boom in trading and deals, Credit Suisse is stuck in limbo.

The collapse of Archegos, a U.S. investment fund, has left the Swiss bank nursing an anticipated pretax loss of nearly $1 billion for the first quarter. That, plus the demise of another client, Greensill Capital, have triggered internal and external probes and the ousting of a swathe of executives.

Investors seeking clarity on what next for Credit Suisse's investment bank, at the heart of the Archegos debacle, and its asset management division, which ran $10 billion in funds linked to Greensill, are unlikely to get final answers on Thursday, when the bank publishes first quarter results.

Chief Executive Thomas Gottstein has said that Credit Suisse's incoming chairman, former Lloyd's boss Antonio Horta-Osorio, will likely undertake a strategic review of the bank when he joins next month.

Buoyed by a boom in capital raising and deals, Credit Suisse was on the cusp of a bumper start to 2021 before a 4.4 billion franc ($4.77 billion) loss from Archegos.

Credit Suisse has emerged as the bank hardest-hit from its exposure to Archegos, which collapsed when it couldn't meet margin calls. Analysts at JPMorgan say Credit Suisse may face another loss of around $400 million this quarter from unwinding Archegos-linked stocks.

Credit Suisse has declined to comment on the estimate.

Stripping out the 4.4 billion franc charge, the implied underlying pre-tax profit of around 3.5 billion francs would have represented the bank's best quarter operationally in at least a decade.

U.S. rivals, some of which were quicker to exit trading positions as Archegos collapsed, produced forecast-beating profits. Goldman Sachs' first quarter net income rose nearly sixfold. Morgan Stanley reported a 150% jump in profit despite disclosing an almost $1 billion loss from Archegos.

Credit Suisse shareholders, meanwhile, are facing a slashed dividend, halted share buybacks and a share price down 15% so far this year.

The bank has said further buybacks will have to wait until it returns capital to target ratios and is able to restore its dividend.

The Financial Times reported last week the group had slashed costs through bonus cuts and other one-off items.

While the move helped bolster capital it could hurt the bank's franchise.

Widespread departures are a real worry for management, one source familiar with the bank's operations told Reuters.

"You have many areas which likely performed exceptionally well in the first quarter, and bankers expect to be paid for exceptional performance. So this becomes a major issue for staff retention," Vontobel analyst Andreas Venditti said. "The options are limited: either they face the risk of losing staff, or they have to make up for this gap with higher accruals in the remaining three quarters."

Credit Suisse declined to comment.

It had previously aimed for a common equity tier 1 ratio of at least 12.5% for the first half of 2021, but now expects a first quarter ratio of at least 12%.

"The big question Credit Suisse will have to discuss this week is: what will FINMA impose in terms of stricter capital requirements, as they did in 2011 with UBS?" Venditti said.

FINMA, Switzerland's financial supervisor, declined comment.

In 2011, when rival UBS suffered a $2.3 billion loss over rogue trades executed by a London-based employee, FINMA imposed capital restrictions and requested UBS bulk up on capital to back its operational risks.

Venditti said he expected to see an RWA inflation at Credit Suisse from the second quarter.

That would give the bank less room for manoeuvre in its handling of disgruntled fund investors seeking payout after the Greensill debacle, he said, while also posing a potential drag to future earnings during a period of record deal-making and roaring trading.

Credit Suisse still faces questions over how it will address $2.3 billion at-risk funds that it is seeking to return to investors following the collapse of its Greensill-linked supply chain finance funds.

It has, so far, distributed $4.8 billion to clients.

($1 = 0.9234 Swiss francs)

(Reporting by Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi; additional reporting by Matt Scuffham and Oliver Hirt: editing by Carmel Crimmins)