Future of Credit Suisse in question after scandal-plagued bank just lost its most loyal investor

March 6, 2023, 1:14 PM UTC
Harris Associates CIO David Herro liquidated his entire stake in Credit Suisse, equivalent to a tenth of the bank's shares as recently as last year.
Harris Associates CIO David Herro revealed on Sunday his firm liquidated its entire stake in Credit Suisse, citing fears the bank's future was in doubt.
Federico Bernini—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Fed up with a never-ending string of ugly headlines and poor quarterly results, Credit Suisse’s most stalwart investor for the past two decades has abandoned the scandal-plagued bank.

Harris Associates’ David Herro, who owned a tenth of the Zurich-based financial institute as recently as last year, revealed on Sunday that he began reducing his holdings in October before finally liquidating everything after his patience ran out. 

Speaking to the Financial Times, the firm’s chief investment officer explained in brutal terms what little faith he still had left in the bank’s management. 

“There is a question about the future of the franchise,” said Herro, citing the 111 billion Swiss francs ($119 billion) in assets drained from its wealth management business, the bank’s cash cow, during the final quarter of last year.

Money managers tend not to have very long investment horizons, which makes Herro a rarity in the industry. With one brief exception between 2008 and 2009, he stuck by the bank through thick and thin ever since he first took a large position two decades ago. 

However, Credit Suisse has sapped market confidence following numerous self-inflicted wounds. These include a $5.5 billion exposure to imploded hedge fund Archegos, and selling an investment fund stuffed with assets originated and packaged by bankrupt firm Greensill Capital that could cost clients an estimated $2.6 billion in losses at last count.

The financial institute is currently on its third pair of chief executive and board chair in just three years. The latest CEO, Ulrich Körner, joined the ranks of his predecessors when he unveiled yet another strategic restructuring plan last October

Last month he was forced to reveal that the bank’s annual net loss attributable to shareholders reached its highest since 2008, ballooning to 7.3 billion francs from a 1.7 billion loss in the previous year. 

On Monday, Herro said his company had “lots of other options” for investing its clients’ funds now that rising interest rates are buoying a lot of European peers. 

“Why go for something that is burning capital when the rest of the sector is now generating it,” he continued, citing other investments in peers like Italy’s Intesa Sanpaolo or BNP Paribas of France, among others.

Bank counters it is ‘laser focused’ on implementing its latest restructuring plan

While Credit Suisse was hit by rumors at the start of October that it faced a “Lehman moment”—catalyst for the exodus of client capital to which Herro referred—other banks were recovering from earlier troubles. 

Last month, ailing German lender Commerzbank posted its highest annual net profit since 2007 thanks to rising net interest income. 

Herro also criticized what he felt were unfavorable terms with the carve-out of investment banking arm, Credit Suisse First Boston, and the sale of its securitized products business to a private equity group. 

“We feel the plan to restructure the investment bank, while a noble cause, is cumbersome and far more costly in terms of cash burn than we expected,” Herro said. “We were also not satisfied with what we were getting in terms of proceeds…from the sale of securitised products.”

When contacted by Fortune, Credit Suisse defended its decisions as following “clear strategic objectives” and argued its latest plan was being implemented faster than initially scheduled.

“We are laser focused on successfully executing our plan and on progressing toward our targets to ensure new Credit Suisse delivers sustainable value for all our stakeholders,” it said in a written statement on Monday.

Credit Suisse’s results, while poor, did not dissuade other value investors speculating the stock’s recent plunge offered an attractive entry point from a risk-reward perspective. Saudi National Bank, for example, acquired a 10% stake in the Zurich lender for roughly 1.8 billion francs towards the end of last year.

Together with a 2.2-billion-franc rights issue in the fourth quarter, the lender was able to plug a hole in its balance sheet blown wide open after booking a 3.7-billion-franc charge to write down the value of tax losses it once aimed to carry forward. 

In trading on Monday, shares in Credit Suisse fell 2.6% lower in Zurich, trading at 2.71 francs, close to an all-time low plumbed last week.

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