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Deutsche Bank axes whole teams in Asia-Pacific as 18,000 job cuts begin

Published Jul 08, 2019 02:16PM ET
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© Reuters. Media members are pictured near a Deutsche Bank office in London
 
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By Tom Sims, Paulina Duran, Sumeet Chatterjee and Matt Scuffham

FRANKFURT/SYDNEY/HONG KONG/NEW YORK (Reuters) - Deutsche Bank (DE:DBKGn) laid off staff from Sydney to New York on Monday as it began to slash 18,000 jobs in a 7.4 billion euro ($8.3 billion) "reinvention" that will lead to yet another annual loss, a plan that knocked its already battered shares.

Germany's largest lender said on Sunday it will scrap its global equities unit and cut some of fixed income operation in a retreat from a long-held ambition to make its struggling investment bank, with 38,000 staff, a force on Wall Street. Deutsche Bank has almost 91,500 staff around the world.

Its shares erased early gains and closed down 5.4% in Frankfurt after its finance chief flagged "significant uncertainty" over breaking even in 2020. Its bonds also fell. U.S.-listed shares dropped 5.8%.

Ratings agency Fitch said that the bank's future credit rating will depend on how successfully it executes the plan.

"The restructuring measures involve large staff cuts and significant leadership changes, which could disrupt the aim to improve core earnings," it said in a note published Monday.

Hundreds of employees at the bank's Wall Street office were summoned to the building's cafeteria on Monday morning to learn their fates, sources within the bank told Reuters. During one-to-one meetings with management and human resources, they were told they were being laid off and informed of their severance terms, the sources said.

One employee outside Deutsche Bank's office told Reuters that staff in the bank's equity sales division had been preparing for the worst.

"People have been planning their next moves but it's a tough market," the worker said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Another U.S. employee, who was told this morning that he would be laid off, said staff had known for the past two weeks that cuts were likely.

Banks have been getting rid of jobs as they automated more equities trading functions, and that could mean fewer job opportunities, industry sources and head hunters say.

Mid-market investment banks may look to hire some individuals, they said. Hedge funds are an unlikely destination since they prefer to hire individuals that have worked at investment firms rather than banks, they added.

Deutsche Bank had been one of the few European banks to maintain a significant presence in the United States after the 2007-2009 financial crisis. However, it has struggled to compete with U.S. rivals, hampered by regulatory investigations and litigation.

PLAN 'NOT HALF-BAKED'

The United States had been seen as a likely focus of the cuts although the bank maintained it wants to keep a significant presence, in part to service European corporate clients doing business in the country. However, some shareholders have pushed for a full U.S. retreat.

Deutsche Bank said it remained committed to the United States, its second-biggest market.

"We will retain a significant presence here and remain a close partner to our U.S. clients and to international institutions that want to access the U.S. market," it said in an emailed statement.

In London, where hundreds of job cuts were expected, Chief Executive Officer Christian Sewing said he was "reinventing" the bank, which is expected to post a loss this year. That would put it in the red for four of the past five years after a series of damaging setbacks.

At Deutsche Bank's investment banking headquarters in London, where the bank employs 8,000 people, several said they were leaving for the last time, though few were keen to talk.

"I was terminated this morning. There was a very quick meeting and that was it," said one information technology employee, who had been working on a project for more than two years.

The nearby Balls Brothers pub filled up with laid-off staff.

Bankers leaving Deutsche Bank's Sydney, Australia, office also said they had been fired but declined to be identified because they were returning later to sign severance packages.

JP Morgan analysts called the plan "bold and for the first time not half-baked" but questioned the credibility of execution, revenue growth and employee motivation.

Rating agency Moody's said there were "significant challenges" to executing the plan swiftly, adding it would keep its negative outlook.

"It's a risky manoeuvre, but if it succeeds, it has the potential to bring the bank back on course," said a person close to one of the top 10 shareholders.

Founded in 1870, Deutsche Bank has long been a major source of finance and advice for German companies seeking to expand abroad or raise money through the bond or equity markets.

Big cuts to its investment bank reverse a decades-long expansion that began with its purchase of Morgan Grenfell in London in 1989 and continued a decade later with a takeover of Bankers Trust in the United States.

The investment bank generated about one-half of Deutsche Bank's revenues but is also volatile. CEO Sewing, who flagged the restructuring in May after a failed merger attempt with Commerzbank (DE:CBKG), wants to focus on more stable sources of revenue.

"We are creating a bank that will be more profitable, leaner, more innovative and more resilient," Sewing wrote in a note to staff on Sunday.

As part of the overhaul, Deutsche Bank will set up a so-called "bad bank" to wind down unwanted assets, with 74 billion euros ($83 billion) of risk-weighted assets.

'PRETTY GLOOMY'

Deutsche Bank did not give details on the job cuts, but said they would be spread around the globe, including in Germany.

In Sydney, Hong Kong and elsewhere in the Asia-Pacific region, where Deutsche Bank used to rank among the top 10 in league tables for equity capital market (ECM) deals, several bankers said entire teams in sales and trading were going.

Deutsche Bank's Asia-Pacific head of ECM, Jason Cox, left, and ECM teams were disbanded in Japan, Australia and most of Asia, people with direct knowledge of matter said, adding that only a few syndicate bankers, including those working on current deals, will remain.

Deutsche Bank had slipped in recent years in Asia, hitting 17th last year and 18th in 2019, Refinitiv data showed. So far this year, it ranks 8th regionally for merger-and-acquisition activity.

"The new investment bank will be smaller but more resilient, with a focus on our financing, capital markets, advisory services and sales and trading businesses," Asia-Pacific CEO Werner Steinmueller said in a staff memo.

One laid-off equities trader in Hong Kong said the mood was "pretty gloomy" as people were called into meetings. "They give you this packet and you are out of the building," he said.

Several workers left offices holding envelopes with the bank's logo. Three employees took a picture of themselves beside a Deutsche Bank sign outside, hugged and then hailed a taxi.

"If you have a job for me, please let me know. But do not ask questions," said one Deutsche employee.

One senior banker, still with a job, questioned how well the slimmed-down franchise in Asia would compete.

"Will clients stick with us, or is the game over?"

(GRAPHIC-Deutsche Bank in numbers, https://tmsnrt.rs/2Jow9hq)

Deutsche Bank axes whole teams in Asia-Pacific as 18,000 job cuts begin
 

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Bagger Vance Jul 08, 2019 3:56PM ET
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