Deutsche Bank dodges Archegos tumult, posts best quarter in years as turnaround plan takes off

Deutsche Bank AG raised its outlook after traders outperformed most Wall Street peers and it dodged losses from the collapse of Archegos Capital Management, handing Chief Executive Officer Christian Sewing the strongest quarter in seven years.

Income from buying and selling debt securities rose 34% in the first three months of the year, Germany’s largest bank said in a statement Wednesday. That compares with an average 17% gain for the largest U.S. investment banks and marks the third consecutive quarter that Deutsche Bank has grown more quickly than the competition, even as it cautioned the gains may soon slow.

Thanks to the strong first quarter, Sewing is now predicting that revenue will match last year’s level after the bank previously warned of a decline. The CEO has seen his two-year-old turnaround plan kept alive by soaring investor demand for bonds and hedges that fueled a boom in the investment bank, while the lending businesses that he sought to strengthen struggled amid negative interest rates. With the trading rally expected to taper off, much will depend on whether interest rates rebound and lift income from lending.

“We see encouraging ongoing activity,” Chief Financial Officer James von Moltke said in a Bloomberg Television interview. Still, “we would not expect a similar pace to the first quarter” in the three months through June.

Shares of Deutsche Bank rose as much as 6.7%, the most in more than five months. They traded 5.8% higher at 9:30 a.m. in Frankfurt, bringing gains this year to 20%.

Von Moltke signaled that the bank’s plan to cut adjusted costs to 18.5 billion euros this year is essentially defunct. Higher levies for the European fund for winding down failed lenders along with costs for the fallout from the collapse of Greensill Capital and its German bank mean the figure is more likely to be 18.9 billion euros, he said on a call. The bank doesn’t plan to offset what he said were “uncontrollable” costs because that would jeopardize needed investments.

Analysts welcomed the result, while cautioning that the unusual support from the trading business is bound to peter out. Andrew Coombs, an analyst at Citigroup Inc. who recommends investors sell Deutsche Bank stock, said in a note that while he has “to commend the company on an impressive quarter,” he doesn’t expect the lender to reach a target for a return on tangible equity of 8% next year.

In the first quarter, net income of 908 million euros ($1.1 billion) was the highest since the start of 2014, beating analysts’ estimates. Deutsche Bank also benefited from lower provisions for credit losses as the economic outlook improved.

The investment bank saw revenue rise 32%, driven by the gain in fixed income trading, which was better than all Wall Street peers with the exception of Morgan Stanley. Deutsche Bank had previously flagged a “good start” to the year, with its investment banking continuing to gain market share.

Deutsche Bank “has reported not only better-than-expected results in all divisions, but also the cleanest set of results of any global investment bank in our coverage so far,” Kian Abouhossein and Amit Ranjan, analysts at JPMorgan Chase & Co., wrote in a note. “Guidance and targets for 2021 are improved and ambitious, which we welcome.”

Revenue at the corporate bank declined 1% from a year earlier, though it rose 2% when adjusting for currency swings as Deutsche Bank passed on costs from negative rates. At the private bank, revenue was flat in euros and up 2% after excluding the effect of currencies. Both businesses have been hit hard by Europe’s negative interest rates.

As part of his 2019 turnaround plan, Sewing had sought to refocus Deutsche Bank on its historical strength in corporate lending while exiting equities trading, including the prime brokerage business that caters to hedge funds. While the bank still had some exposure to Archegos, it was among a handful of lenders to Bill Hwang’s family office that were quick enough to exit those positions without losses, Bloomberg reported earlier.

Von Moltke in the interview confirmed that the bank incurred no losses and was able to return excess collateral to the firm. “We’re very pleased with the way our risk management functions functioned through the process, both in advance of the market events and then in the liquidation and managing through that event,” he said.

On Tuesday, UBS Group AG announced a surprise $861 million loss from Archegos, while Nomura Holding Inc. disclosed a $2.9 billion hit. Credit Suisse Group AG last week put the cost of its relationship with the former hedge fund manager at $5.5 billion, the worst toll among global banks. It’s now planning a sweeping overhaul of the prime business and has tapped investors for fresh capital.

At the two Swiss banks, the Archegos losses overshadowed what was otherwise a strong quarter for investment banking, including for advising on initial public offerings for so-called special purpose acquisition companies. Deutsche Bank, too, has gotten a boost because it’s among the few major firms that had a significant SPAC business long before it was fashionable.

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