Investment and financial services mega-bank UBS says the worst of the stock market volatility is far from over, and that its clients pulled $13 billion in assets from the market during the extreme volatility of the final quarter of 2018.
The bank listed increased volatility, rising protectionism and geopolitical tensions such as the ongoing trade war between the U.S. and China as the driving forces weighing most on investors. Withdrawals totaled $8 billion during the fourth quarter, which an additional $5 billion removed from asset management.
“These are very poor results, and come as somewhat of a negative surprise so soon after the upbeat investor day,” analysts including Andrew Coombs at Citigroup wrote in a note to investors. In wealth management “the fourth quarter is usually seasonally weak, but this is disappointing.”
Chief Executive Officer Sergio Ermotti and Chairman Axel Weber have overseen a pivot away from investment banking since the global financial crisis to focus on managing money for the rich. While that strategy has been imitated by rivals including Credit Suisse Group AG — and helped the bank become more resilient to market swings — UBS is still vulnerable to the volatility that has prompted clients to flee.
“In wealth management, particularly when I look at our overall results, of course they are not up to our ambitions and our expectations,” Ermotti said in a Bloomberg Television interview with Francine Lacqua. Clients are taking a wait-and-see attitude amid the trade tensions, he said.
Ermotti’s assessment contrasted with comments from his counterpart at Credit Suisse, Tidjane Thiam, who told Bloomberg in an interview that assets at his firm have been “resilient” and the bank sees no reason to change the guidance it had given at its investor day last month.
“Look, it is a very difficult fourth quarter,” Thiam said from the World Economic Forum in Davos, pointing to disappointing earnings at some of his largest rivals. “Things have gotten better since the beginning of the year.”
UBS declined 3.8 percent at 10:37 a.m., while Credit Suisse fell 0.6 percent.
Profit at UBS’s wealth management was $912 million, compared with estimates of $943 million, while the investment bank also disappointed, reporting a $30 million profit that was just a fraction of what analysts had been expecting. In a blow to the bank, Andrea Orcel — who had overseen rising profits at the business even as the bank reduced the amount of capital allocated to it — decided to leave UBS earlier this year.