Credit Suisse counters critics with $15.6 billion capital plan

ZURICH Wed Jul 18, 2012 3:06pm EDT

A logo is seen in front of a Credit Suisse building in Zurich, May 4, 2012. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

A logo is seen in front of a Credit Suisse building in Zurich, May 4, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Christian Hartmann

ZURICH (Reuters) - Credit Suisse unveiled measures to boost its capital base by 15.3 billion Swiss francs ($15.6 billion), a move that was welcomed by a previously critical central bank and left some investors skeptical.

Credit Suisse said on Wednesday that steps including issuing convertible bonds and bringing forward an exchange of hybrid capital notes would boost capital by 8.7 billion francs immediately.

Other actions, such as divestments, paying bonuses in shares and earnings-related impacts, should add another 6.6 billion by year end.

"The measures we have announced today should eliminate any of the doubt raised by the Swiss National Bank report," chief executive Brady Dougan told a conference call.

Dougan, credited for steering the bank through the financial crisis without the need for a bailout, came under heavy fire after the bank's shares tumbled last month when the SNB called for urgent action to improve its capital this year and Moody's downgraded its long-term debt rating.

The SNB welcomed Credit Suisse's move. "In an environment that remains particularly challenging for the international banking system, these measures substantially increase the resilience of Credit Suisse Group," the central bank said.

Credit Suisse shares were up 3.6 percent to 17.76 francs by 0725 EDT, the biggest rise by a European blue-chip stock, but were still well below the 19 francs where they were trading before the SNB's report on June 14.

"We are unimpressed by these measures which cause unnecessary dilution to shareholders," said Kepler analyst Dirk Becker, who rates the stock at reduce.

"The capital measures will depress revenues through asset disposals, negatively affect staff morale through 'voluntary" exchange of cash bonus into equity and make it impossible to generate a reasonable return."

The measures represent something of an about-face for Dougan, who initially fought back against the SNB by arguing that FINMA is its regulator, not the central bank, and Credit Suisse comfortably meets capital requirements policed by FINMA.

The bank still disagreed with the "style and substance" of the SNB's report, but realized it would be prudent to act more decisively to bolster capital, Dougan told media on a call.

"The announced measures are positive from a solvency point of view but leave some doubts on the credibility of CS management," said Sarasin analyst Rainer Skierka.

"In addition, the cost of doing business will further increase and some dilution effects will also occur from the capital measures."

PULLING ALL LEVERS FOR CAPITAL

Credit Suisse said 3.8 billion francs in mandatory convertible bonds would represent an 18 percent dilution when they convert into 234 million shares in March 2013.

They are being fully underwritten by existing investors such as Qatar and the Olayan Group, as well as new investors like Norway's pension fund Norges and Singapore-based Temasek.

Olayan, the bank's biggest investor with a 6.6 percent stake, has also agreed to bring forward an exchange of 1.7 billion francs of hybrid securities into contingent convertible notes (CoCos) originally planned for October 2013.

Olayan said it believes the bank can create "sustained value" despite the challenging environment.

By contrast, Qatar won't bring forward its exchange of 4.1 billion francs in hybrid notes, but Dougan said the bank's second-biggest investor was still very supportive.

A sale of 7 percent of fund manager Aberdeen Asset Management announced earlier this month will also bolster capital by 200 million francs.

As part of its second line of measures, Credit Suisse is selling real estate, asking employees to exchange future cash bonuses into shares, and offloading illiquid private equity investments.

Dougan also announced an extra 1 billion francs of cost cuts after the bank reached a 2013 target of slashing spending by 2 billion francs early. Under that plan, the bank had wanted to shed 3,500 positions. Total headcount now stands at 48,200.

The additional cuts, which will result in an extra 225 million franc restructuring charge in the second half, will come in nearly equal parts from the investment bank and private bank, but Dougan declined to say how many jobs were involved.

INVESTMENT BANK SUFFERS

After the SNB suggested the bank cut its dividend to build capital, Credit Suisse said it was planning for a flat all-share payout of 0.75 Swiss francs per share compared to the choice it gave investors last year to take the payout in shares or cash.

Dougan said Credit Suisse wants to give shareholders "substantial" payouts after it has bolstered its capital to the key 10 percent level, which it expects in 2013.

Credit Suisse said the various immediate measures would put its capital ratio at 9.4 percent by the year end from 7 percent, according to a Swiss measure which includes new Basel III rules.

The bank announced second-quarter net profit of 788 million francs - bringing forward an earnings report that had been due next Thursday. It said it will provide full figures on Tuesday.

Pretax profit at its investment bank slumped to 383 million francs from 998 million the previous quarter as it suffered from a slowdown in trading like other banks. The bank said it took losses on fixed-income inventory positions and described interest rate and foreign exchange trading as "challenging".

But Dougan reiterated a medium-term return-on-equity target of more than 15 percent.

The bank said it won 3.4 billion francs in net new private banking assets, taking into account 3.4 billion in outflows following the merger of boutique subsidiary Clariden Leu, now largely complete. Dougan said Clariden Leu withdrawals ebbed to a low of 200 million in June, meaning outflows are stabilizing.

Credit Suisse's private bank is also grappling with raids of its German clients, as European officials crack down on tax evasion as well as a U.S. investigation into offshore accounts at the bank. Switzerland is trying to get the U.S. investigations dropped in exchange for the payment of fines and the transfer of names of thousands more U.S. bank clients.

(Reporting by Katharina Bart; Editing by Emma Thomasson and Erica Billingham)

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