UBS shares soar as smashes profit forecast, sticks to share buybacks

Published 05/07/2024, 12:53 AM
Updated 05/07/2024, 12:01 PM
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Logos of Swiss banks Credit Suisse and UBS are seen before a news conference in Zurich Switzerland, August 30, 2023.  REUTERS/Denis Balibouse/File Photo
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By Noele Illien

ZURICH (Reuters) -UBS stunned investors with a $1.8 billion first-quarter profit on Tuesday, saying it was sticking with share buybacks, easing concerns about Swiss plans to hike capital requirements.

Shares in Switzerland's biggest bank jumped as much as 10% and were on track for their biggest one-day gain since March 2023, when authorities orchestrated its rescue of Credit Suisse.

UBS has seen its shares soar more than 50% since the takeover, with investors upbeat about the prospects for the combined group given low acquisition costs, a huge increase in assets and its so far relatively smooth integration.

The bank's net income was nearly triple analyst forecasts, marking its first quarterly profit since taking over Credit Suisse and driven by cost-cutting and a boost from 'non-core' parts of the business that UBS inherited and wants to exit.

"This is a testament to the strength of our client franchises and progress on our integration plans," UBS CEO Sergio Ermotti said.

UBS now faces a pivotal year for integrating its former rival, with trickier stages such as combining IT systems, migrating clients from Credit Suisse and cutting the enlarged banks' workforce of 111,549 all still to come.

Planned job cuts in Switzerland are expected to kick off towards the end of 2024 and continue through 2026, Ermotti said.

UBS faces growing regulatory and political scrutiny, as Switzerland seeks ways to protect itself better should a bank with a balance sheet double the size of its economy ever fail.

The Swiss government recently unveiled plans to raise capital requirements for banks deemed "too big to fail", fuelling concerns about whether they would impact the ability of UBS to reward shareholders.

Executives have expressed major concerns, but Ermotti said on Tuesday that UBS was sticking with share buyback plans for 2024, 2025 and 2026.

This includes repurchasing up to $1 billion this year as well as increasing last year's dividend of $0.70 per share by a mid-teen percentage in 2024.

Record buybacks and dividends have helped fuel a Europe-wide rally in banking shares, with stocks hitting a near nine-year high as the latest forecast-beating bank earnings, including from UniCredit, was cheered by investors.

Ermotti said UBS was beefing up its regulatory reserves by around $20 billion irrespective of the Swiss government's plans.

"We expect UBS to accelerate the winding down of the legacy Credit Suisse trading positions, which should release substantial capital that we believe would be more than sufficient for the mooted regulatory capital increase," said Johann Scholtz, analyst at Morningstar.

NET NEW ASSETS

Pre-provision profits in UBS' core businesses were 10% above expectations, while asset management and investment banking fell revenues short of forecasts, RBC analysts said.

Wealth management reported $27 billion in net new assets, compared to $22 billion for the previous quarter, although UBS said lower lending and deposit volumes as well as lower Swiss interest rates could hit the division.

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Logos of Swiss banks Credit Suisse and UBS are seen before a news conference in Zurich Switzerland, August 30, 2023.  REUTERS/Denis Balibouse/File Photo

UBS said that it had achieved an additional $1 billion in gross cost savings in the first quarter, taking total savings since the merger to $5 billion. It is aiming for another $1.5 billion in savings by the end of 2024.

The historic deal to merge the two global systemically important banks closed last June and was followed by two quarters of losses for UBS. The merger of the main parent companies is expected to be legally completed on May 31, and the merger of their Swiss branches in the third quarter.

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