UBS eyeing swoop for Credit Suisse

167-year-old bank is the biggest name ensnared in the market turmoil unleashed by the collapse of US lenders

By Reuters

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People walk past the entrance of Swiss bank Credit Suisse at their headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland. - AP
People walk past the entrance of Swiss bank Credit Suisse at their headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland. - AP

Published: Sat 18 Mar 2023, 2:38 PM

Last updated: Sat 18 Mar 2023, 8:22 PM

UBS AG was examining on Saturday a takeover of its embattled Swiss peer Credit Suisse , sources said, a move that could dampen fears the unfolding crisis might destabilise the global banking system.

The 167-year-old bank is the biggest name ensnared in the market turmoil unleashed by the collapse of US lenders Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank over the past week, forcing the Swiss bank to tap $54 billion in central bank funding.

After wild swings in the bank's share price this week, Credit Suisse had lost a quarter of its market value by Friday night.

To stamp out the crisis, Swiss regulators are encouraging UBS and Credit Suisse to merge but neither bank wants to do so, one source said. The regulators do not have the power to force the merger, the person said.

The boards of UBS and Credit Suisse were expected to separately meet over the weekend, the Financial Times said.

Credit Suisse and UBS declined to comment.

The mood in Switzerland, long considered an icon for banking stability, was pensive as executives wrestled with the future of the country's biggest lenders. "Banks in permanent stress" read the front page headline of the Neue Zuercher Zeitung newspaper.

In a sign of its vulnerability, at least four of Credit Suisse's major rivals, including Societe Generale SA and Deutsche Bank AG, have put restrictions on their trades involving the Swiss bank or its securities, five people with direct knowledge of the matter told Reuters.

"The Swiss central bank stepping in was a necessary step to calm the flames, but it might not be sufficient to restore confidence in Credit Suisse, so there’s talk about more measures," said Frederique Carrier, head of investment strategy at RBC Wealth Management.

Efforts to shore up Credit Suisse come as policymakers including the European Central Bank and US President Joe Biden sought to reassure investors and depositors the global banking system is safe. But fears of broader troubles in the sector persist.

Already this week, big US banks provided a $30 billion lifeline for smaller lender First Republic, while US banks altogether sought a record $153 billion in emergency liquidity from the Federal Reserve in recent days.

Efforts to shore up Credit Suisse come as policymakers sought to reassure investors and depositors the global banking system is safe. - AP
Efforts to shore up Credit Suisse come as policymakers sought to reassure investors and depositors the global banking system is safe. - AP

This reflected "funding and liquidity strains on banks, driven by weakening depositor confidence," said ratings agency Moody's, which this week downgraded its outlook on the US banking system to negative.

In Washington, focus turned to greater oversight to ensure that banks - and their executives - are held accountable.

Biden called on Congress to give regulators greater power over the sector, including imposing higher fines, clawing back funds and barring officials from failed banks.

Some Democratic lawmakers asked regulators and the Justice Department to probe the role of Goldman Sachs in SVB's collapse, said the office of Representative Adam Schiff.

Market troubles linger

Banking stocks globally have been battered since Silicon Valley Bank collapsed, raising questions about other weaknesses in the financial system.

US regional bank shares fell sharply on Friday and the S&P Banks index posted its worst two-week calendar loss since the pandemic shook markets in March 2020, slumping 21.5 per cent.

First Republic Bank ended Friday down 32.8 per cent, bringing its loss over the last 10 sessions to more than 80 per cent.

While support from some of the biggest names in U.S. banking prevented First Republic's collapse this week, investors were startled by disclosures on its cash position and how much emergency liquidity it needed.

Interest rate risk

The failure of SVB brought into focus how a relentless campaign of interest rate hikes by the US Federal Reserve and other central banks was putting pressure on the banking sector.

Many analysts and regulators have said SVB's downfall was due to its specialised, tech-focussed business model, while the wider banking system was much more robust thanks to reforms adopted in the years after the global financial crisis.

However, a senior official at China's central bank said on Saturday high interest rates in the major developed economies could continue to cause problems for the financial system.


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