Archegos collapse plunges Credit Suisse back into crisis

April 6, 2021, 4:37 PM UTC

The collapse of Bill Hwang’s Archegos Capital Management threatens to plunge Credit Suisse into yet another governance scandal not long after a spying affair cost the bank its CEO last February.

The Swiss lender forecast a 4.4 billion franc ($4.7 billion) charge for its prime brokerage operations in the first quarter as a result of unwinding leveraged trading positions on stocks linked to the hedge fund, including ViacomCBS. The hit is nearly as big as the annual pretax profit of its entire investment banking division over the previous four years combined. 

Shares in Credit Suisse closed down 0.4% at 10.12 francs while Viacom CBS were up $1.36 at $44.26.

Credit Suisse is already contending with potential losses arising from the failure of Greensill Capital. Last month, Credit Suisse liquidated an investment fund stuffed with dodgy assets originated by the now insolvent Greensill. Only about a third of the notional $10 billion has been recovered so far, and the bank expects to update affected clients on the likely hit in coming days.

“I recognize that these cases have caused significant concern amongst all our stakeholders,” CEO Thomas Gottstein said in a statement. “Serious lessons will be learned.”

On Tuesday, the bank announced the departure of chief risk and compliance officer Lara Warner and the head of the investment banking division, Brian Chin.

In July, Gottstein had announced a package of strategic initiatives that were projected to yield gross savings of 400 million to 450 million francs ($430 million to $480 million) annually from next year. One of the four initiatives involved changes in investment banking, and another saw compliance integrated with risk into a combined department to reduce costs.

It’s unclear if Credit Suisse’s problems are related to these initiatives.

The Archegos debacle also raises questions about Credit Suisse’s strategy of maintaining its global investment banking operations alongside its lucrative and stable wealth management business.

When Gottstein took over from Tidjane Thiam, chairman Urs Rohner claimed the Ivorian left the bank having “de-risked” the business, and the investment banking division had been on track for a 50% annual increase in overall revenue this year.

Rohner, who has headed the board of directors since 2011, will face shareholders one last time at the end of April when he leads the annual shareholder meeting.

António Horta-Osório, currently CEO of Lloyds Banking Group, will have to pick up the pieces when he replaces Rohner in May. 

The incoming chairman of the board will also oversee two separate independent investigations into Archegos and Greensill, focusing on how the events unfolded and on lessons learned.

Horta-Osório will have to consider how its prime brokerage business could have extended so much credit to one hedge fund and whether to shrink the investment banking division even further as a result. 

Other lenders, including Nomura, also conducted business with Hwang, but suffered much smaller losses.

Credit Suisse expects a pretax loss of 900 million francs ($960 million) in the first quarter. In the corresponding period last year it recorded a profit of 1.2 billion francs ($1.28 billion).

Some fear losses arising from Archegos may extend beyond the first quarter.

Credit Suisse is due to release first-quarter figures on April 22. 

In order to ensure it meets regulatory minimum solvency requirements, the Swiss bank has put a halt on its 1 billion franc ($1.07 billion) share buyback program until its balance sheet improves. 

The Archegos-driven losses ruin what would have otherwise been a strong quarter for Credit Suisse, according to Andreas Venditti of Vontobel Equity Research. For January and February, Credit Suisse had reported its highest levels of income before tax in a decade. 

“While the short-term impact seems less severe than feared, the full consequences from the reputational loss will only be visible over time,” Venditti told investors in a research note on Tuesday. Last week he cut his price target to 10.50 Swiss francs per share from 12 previously, reaffirming his hold rating. 

The bank had hoped to rebuild its reputation after Thiam was forced out just over a year ago, following revelations the lender had put a tail on its former star banker, Iqbal Khan, when he defected to UBS.

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