Top UBS shareholder pins rebound hopes on private wealth

LONDON Wed Dec 19, 2012 9:06am EST

LONDON Dec 19 (Reuters) - UBS's wealth management business will help it bounce back from a $1.5 billion rap for rigging interest rates, one of its largest investors said, although fears of costly civil lawsuits could cast a pall over its shares for some time.

Paras Anand, European equities head at Fidelity Worldwide Investment, said legal action sparked by the Libor scandal posed an unpredictable threat to the bank's near-term earnings, even if its core private banking franchise escaped permanent harm.

"The big unknown factor is the civil litigation that could follow on as a result of this...That is one thing at the back of our minds that we have to be cognisant of," Anand said in an interview with Reuters.

"The issue for shareholders is the challenge of pricing that risk in. The potential costs are too unquantifiable and indeed, it's unclear as to whether they will actually manifest or not."

Switzerland's largest bank was hit with the fine on Wednesday after admitting to fraud, paying bribes to brokers and "pervasive" manipulation of global benchmark interest rates by dozens of its staff.

UBS shares were trading 1.3 percent higher at 1401 GMT, as investors looked forward to the end of a scandal-filled chapter in the bank's history and a renewed focus on managing cash on behalf of rich clients, rather than so-called 'casino' investment banking.

"There's clearly been a backlash against big faceless financial entities but a private bank has big personal relationships with its customers ... These kinds of institutions are surprisingly resilient," Anand said.

"We have seen some awful scandals in businesses much weaker than UBS and they manage to survive," he added.

Fidelity owns around 45 million shares in UBS, equivalent to around 1.2 percent of the bank, and is its fifth largest insitutional owner excluding sovereign wealth funds, according to Thomson Reuters data.

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