UBS' CEO warns this is 'one of the worst' markets in years

  • UBS shares dropped 3% after the bank said it would slow hiring and slash costs by $300 million as it weathers "one of the worst first-quarter environments" in years.
  • CEO Sergio Ermotti blamed declines in global wealth management and investment banking revenues on cautious clients in the US and Asia, and on a lack of mergers and initial public offerings outside the US.
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UBS will slow its hiring and cut its costs by $300 million this year as it weathers "one of the worst first-quarter environments in recent history", CEO Sergio Ermotti told investors at a conference in London on Wednesday. 

Cautious Asian clients and US customers hoarding cash pushed the Swiss bank's global wealth management revenue down about 9% from a year ago, Ermotti said, according to Bloomberg.

A dearth of mergers and new market listings outside the US meant the investment banking arm fared even worse, with revenues about a third lower. UBS shares slid by 3% on the news and now trade 30% below their price a year ago.

The Swiss bank expects to post adjusted returns on attributed equity — a measure of how lucrative its investments are — of about 5% in the first quarter, according to CNBC. That's a far cry from its target of 15% for the 2019-2021 period, and a sharp decline from the 12.9% it managed in 2018. 

Ermotti told investors he considered that "an acceptable outcome if it is a one-off," in light of the dire market backdrop. Sentiment continues to suffer from Brexit uncertainty, the US-China trade war, and signs of a global economic slowdown.

Anticipating similar slowdowns at rival investment banks, traders sent shares in Credit Suisse down 3.5%.

The latest comments follow similar complaints from Ermotti about world markets in January.

"The convergence of macroeconomic, geopolitical, and geoeconomic concerns continued to negatively affect client sentiment," he said on the company's fourth-quarter earnings call. "Along with negative seasonality factors, [that] had an impact on liquidity, creating a bitter cocktail."

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