UBS posts 40% first-quarter net profit rise as wealth shows resilienceUBS posts 40% first-quarter net profit rise as wealth shows resilience
FILE PHOTO: Logo of Swiss bank UBS is seen in Zurich

By Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi

ZURICH (Reuters) – The world’s largest wealth manager, UBS, reported a 40% rise in January-March profit on Tuesday, buoyed by ultra rich clients reshuffling portfolios to cope with the coronavirus outbreak and as a revamp helped its core business to its best quarter since 2008.

The bank booked net profit of $1.595 billion, slightly ahead of its previous guidance of around $1.5 billion. It reported strong operating performance across all business divisions, even after accounting for the risk of increased defaults resulting from the virus.

“Looking ahead, the range of possible outcomes remains very wide, and it is too early to make reliable predictions about the timing and shape of any potential economic recovery,” Switzerland’s largest lender said in a statement.

“The continued disciplined execution of our strategic plans will help to mitigate this.”

The bank recorded $268 million in credit loss expenses for the quarter, saying it was primarily exposed to credit related to wealth management clients and within Switzerland, noting its credit book was “of high quality”.

Cross-town rival Credit Suisse on Thursday posted a sevenfold increase in credit loss provisions, as lenders globally brace for rising defaults due to the virus.

UBS’ core business managing money for the world’s wealthy saw invested assets decline sequentially to $2.339 trillion on the back of falling asset valuations, while revenue grew across all main lines, helping operating income rise 14%.

The resilient performance by UBS’ wealth management business puts it on a firmer footing going into the crisis compared to rivals more focused on corporate and retail banking. HSBC and Santander both reported sharp falls in first-quarter profit on Tuesday, and set aside billions in expected loan loss provisions.

UBS’ investment bank more than tripled pre-tax earnings compared to a tough start to 2019, while asset management increased earnings by 52%. Its Swiss retail and corporate business took a 16% hit on the back of lower expected recovery from loans to credit-impaired corporate counterparties.

In investment banking, its global markets revenue jumped 44%, with earnings from foreign exchange, rates and credit trading doubling while equities were up 18%.

UBS in January presented a revamped vision for its flagship wealth business, seeking to boost lending and extend more complex financing to wealthy clients, as well as increasing access to private and capital markets through upped collaboration between private banking, asset management and its investment bank.

The coronavirus outbreak has stymied some of the businesses in which UBS is hoping to increase its wealth foothold, as deal-making and IPOs ground to a halt during the quarter, and as a worldwide market rout triggered margin calls which prompted some wealth managers to rein in leverage extended to rich clients.

UBS’ results, however, pointed to resilience in wealth management, as pre-tax profit grew 41% and as it brought in a net $12 billion in fresh client inflows and $3.9 billion in net new loans.

The bank recorded a $53 million credit loss expense across the loans it extends to wealthy individuals – where the bank has previously pointed to conservative risk management – or 0.03% of its wealth management lending book, and a low level of margin calls.

In the Asia-Pacific region, UBS’ wealth business recorded its highest pre-tax profit on record, as transaction income jumped 93%.

(Reporting by Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi; Editing by Michael Shields and Christopher Cushing)