Credit Suisse has strong start to 2018 after third straight loss

ZURICH (Reuters) - Credit Suisse CSGN.S on Wednesday was upbeat on prospects for the year ahead, as it enters the last leg of Chief Executive Tidjane Thiam's three-year overhaul, hoping to put its third straight annual loss behind it.

Thiam has been reshaping Switzerland’s second biggest bank by scaling back Credit Suisse’s investment banking business to concentrate on less capital-intensive private banking.

But the meltdown of one of the bank’s volatility products last week and two recent U.S. lawsuits over activities before and just after Thiam took charge have raised questions about how far his strategy has taken hold.

The bank on Wednesday also disclosed an inquiry into its hiring practices in the Asia-Pacific region.

These troubles, combined with pressure from activist investors, have put the bank’s efforts to turn itself into a premier bank for the world’s ultra-wealthy under the spotlight.

Credit Suisse has managed faster growth in its wealth management business than rival UBS UBSG.S, growing assets under management to a record 772 billion Swiss francs ($827 billion) last year while cutting 3.2 billion francs in costs since 2015.

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Thiam was positive about business in the first few weeks of 2018.

“We’ve had half a quarter now, and indications are very positive,” Thiam said. “We’re being quite prudent in the numbers we’ve disclosed here, because markets can change, but the performance so far has been very strong.”

In the first six weeks of 2018, the bank had a 10 percent pickup in revenues in its Global Markets trading division and a 15 percent pickup in its Asia-Pacific trading business, as a surge in market turbulence saw activity levels rise.

The bank’s shares rose more than 3 percent.

“2018 is set to be a year in which Credit Suisse should be able to deliver turnaround benefits from the large-scale restructuring program,” Baader Helvea analyst Tomasz Grzelak said in a note.

The bank said market volatility -- which was also behind the meltdown of its exchange-traded notes used to bet on stock market swings -- was a double-edged sword. Too much of it and clients could become averse to trading risks or hold off on new listings.

FILE PHOTO: Switzerland's national flag flies next to the logo of Swiss bank Credit Suisse at a branch office in Luzern, Switzerland October 19, 2017. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann /File Photo


Investors say Credit Suisse’s transformation is moving along.

Marc Halperin, a fund manager at top-30 Credit Suisse shareholder Federated Investors, said investors had weathered enough not to be put off by last week’s derivatives shakeup.

“We’ve been through a lot with this thing. It’s still a cheap stock,” he said.

“They’re on the right track,” Thomas Jaeger, a senior portfolio manager at Mirabaud Asset Management, said ahead of the results. “They’ve made great strides in reducing their cost base and in a supportive environment should profit more than others when returns start shooting up.”

Credit Suisse’s 2017 loss came on the back of a 2.3 billion franc writedown triggered by U.S. tax reform. On a pre-tax basis, it was the bank’s first year in the black since Thiam launched the turnaround plan in 2015.

The group proposed a reduced dividend of 0.25 francs per share.

($1 = 0.9332 Swiss francs)

Reporting by Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi; additional reporting by Angelika Gruber and Simon Jessop; Editing by Michael Shields and Jane Merriman