Channel NewsAsia

UBS bank reports huge switch back into profit

Swiss banking giant UBS on Tuesday reported a huge swing back into profit for 2013, reaping the rewards of a radical overhaul launched under pressure the previous year.

ZURICH: Swiss banking giant UBS on Tuesday reported a huge swing back into profit for 2013, reaping the rewards of a radical overhaul launched under pressure the previous year.

UBS said that its net profit of 3.2 billion Swiss francs (2.6 billion euros, $3.6 billion) for 2013 was a vindication of its ongoing shake-up, after a 2.4 billion franc loss the previous year fuelled by regulatory fines.

Chief executive Sergio Ermotti said 2013 had been a "transformational" year for UBS.

"A year ago, we said we would further adapt our business to better serve clients, reduce risk, deliver more sustainable performance and enhance shareholder returns," said Ermotti, who took the helm in 2011 of a bank with an image tarnished by scandals.

"I am pleased to report that in 2013 we accomplished all those goals. We finished the year ahead of the majority of our performance targets and will continue to execute our strategy in a disciplined manner in order to ensure the firm's long-term success."

Its role in an international scandal concerning the rigging of the Libor interbank interest rate by key players in the sector saw UBS get hit with a massive fine by regulators.

And its investment bank found itself in the spotlight due to a massive rogue trading case in Britain.

UBS also took huge losses from the financial crisis, when losses linked to US sub-prime debt forced Swiss taxpayers to come to the rescue.

In common with Swiss banks in general, the bank is having to adjust to a new business environment, notably owing to an opening up of Swiss banking secrecy forced by the US probes and similar investigations elsewhere.

However, unlike a string of other Swiss banks, UBS has already reached an agreement in the United States over its abetting of tax evasion by Americans citizens, paying a huge fine.

In October 2012, UBS announced a massive reorganisation.

It decided to shift the focus back to wealth management, its traditional business, and to reduce the clout of its investment bank, which henceforth would centre on trading in shares, currencies and precious metals.

The UBS wealth management arm posted a 17-percent increase in pre-tax profit against the outcome in 2012, reaching 2.4 billion Swiss francs.

Net new money in that division more than tripled to 35.9 billion francs, driven by the Asia-Pacific region as well as the global super-rich.

Its Americas wealth management activities, which are accounted for separately, notched up pre-tax profit of $991 million.

And the UBS investment bank division posted pre-tax profit of 2.5 billion francs.

UBS's fourth-quarter performance contrasted with the lacklustre showing of rivals such as Germany's Deutsche Bank and US counterparts.

UBS, which is the top player in the Swiss banking sector, said its performance accelerated in the fourth quarter, with net profit reaching 917 million francs, a full 59 percent higher than the 577 million recorded in the previous three months.

The UBS showing from October to December 2013 was boosted by a tax credit of 470 million Swiss francs, but also by the robust performance of its investment bank, fuelled by a rise in revenues from consulting and share issues.

"We still believe that UBS is on track to successfully implement its strategy," said Vontobel analyst Andrea Venditti, though he said the wealth management arm's performance had been less than impressive in the fourth quarter due to rising costs.

Helvea analyst Tim Dawson said the UBS refocus on core operations had provided a valuable lesson.

"In the financial sector, simplicity is a virtue. Many of the sector's recent troubles arose because of excessive complexity," he said.

While the first quarter tends to see activity speed up further in the banking sector, UBS was downbeat about the current market outlook.

"The continued absence of sustained and credible improvements to unresolved issues in Europe, continuing US fiscal and monetary policy issues, emerging markets fragility and the mixed outlook for global growth would make improvements in prevailing market conditions unlikely," it said.

But despite the overall environment, UBS underlined that it expected its wealth management business to continue attracting new money.

Tweet Photos, Videos and Update on this Story to  #cna