ZURICH (Reuters) - UBS UBSN.VX may be thinking again about spinning off its investment bank - and could even rescuscitate its old SG Warburg brand - to fend off demands that it put aside yet more capital to protect private banking clients from its investment activities, according to Mediobanca analysts.
The Swiss bank has cut 2,000 jobs of a promised 10,000 under a three-year plan to quit fixed income trading seen by regulators as high risk - but that has not been enough for Swiss politicians who are considering tougher rules to curb borrowing by it and Credit Suisse CSGN.VX
“We think these events have resulted in UBS dusting off plans, we are sure they have, for disposing of the investment bank,” wrote Mediobanca analyst Chris Wheeler in a note, adding such a move was also made more likely by “the earnings trajectory of the business.”
Wheeler said he based his assertion on the strategic logic for such a move.
UBS has been scrutinized since its 2008 bailout by the Swiss government, and is also under pressure from activist shareholder Knight Vinke to dispose of its investment bank altogether. UBS has always refused to do this on the grounds that it is a key strategy pillar.
“We’ve been very clear on our strategy and it includes the investment bank,” a spokesman for UBS said on Thursday.
An outright sale of the investment bank, run by renowned European dealmaker Andrea Orcel, is improbable given the high price top talent would command, according to Mediobanca.
Instead, UBS could spin it off to existing shareholders and call it SG Warburg, after the British merchant bank it bought in 1995. Following several subsequent deals and mergers the Warburg name was retired in 2003.
UBS would then be able to tap strategic investors and sovereign wealth funds to help infuse an independently-run Warburg with capital - and enable the Swiss government to demonstrate to the electorate it had substantially derisked the bank sector, the Mediobanca analysts said.
UBS’s investment bank was in sixth place last year - unchanged from 2012 - for European equity capital markets deals, which includes working on new stock market listings, bonds convertible into shares, and sales of new or existing stock by already listed companies.
UBS and Credit Suisse form the backbone of a financial industry that generates 6 percent of the Alpine nation’s gross domestic product.
“As a result, (Swiss financial regulator) FINMA would almost certainly be able to take a more benign view of a predominantly asset gathering institution and the New UBS would hope of an improvement in its credit rating, which should provide a positive impact on funding costs,” said Wheeler.
Investors, who have applauded the renewed focus on its flagship private bank as a result of the withdrawal from large parts of fixed income withdrawal, were little moved by the spin-off idea.
At 1618 GMT, the stock was 0.3 percent lower, amid a 0.4 percent fal in the broader European bank index .SX7P.
Credit Suisse has said it will stick with investment banking, but plans to shrink its interest rate trading arm, further scaling back an area squeezed by strict new regulation and a drop in activity.
Reporting By Katharina Bart; Editing by Sophie Walker