An overnight scramble by Switzerland’s authorities to shore up confidence in Credit Suisse went some way to calming panicked investors, but the country’s second-biggest bank may yet need more help if it is to survive.
Credit Suisse said it would borrow up to 50 billion Swiss francs ($53.7 billion) from the Swiss National Bank, taking advantage of a lifeline offered by the central bank late Wednesday after the lender’s stock crashed as much as 30%. It also said it would buy back some of its own debt.
[Credit Suisse has a large tech operation based in Research Triangle Park, N.C.]
In a statement early Thursday, CEO Ulrich Körner said he had taken “decisive action” to strengthen the bank as it continues to implement a major overhaul announced last fall.
“My team and I are resolved to move forward rapidly to deliver a simpler and more focused bank built around client needs,” he added.
Shares soared 32% at the open but erased much of those gains to trade just 14% higher at 10.30 a.m. ET. The bank has lost about a third of its value since the start of 2023, and more than 72% in the past 12 months, as a series of scandals, missteps and compliance failures have steadily undermined the confidence of investors and clients.
JP Morgan’s banking analysts said the liquidity support offered by the Swiss central bank would not be sufficient, given “ongoing market confidence issues” with Credit Suisse’s plan to carve out its investment bank, and the erosion of the wider business.
Customers withdrew 123 billion Swiss francs ($133 billion) from Credit Suisse in 2022 — mostly in the fourth quarter — and the bank reported in February an annual net loss of nearly 7.3 billion Swiss francs ($7.9 billion), its biggest since the global financial crisis in 2008.
The venerable but troubled bank, founded in 1856, is one of the biggest financial institutions in the world and categorized as a “global systemically important bank,” along with just 30 others, including JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America and the Bank of China.
The Swiss National Bank confirmed Thursday that it would provide liquidity to Credit Suisse “against sufficient collateral.”
The cash could buy time for Credit Suisse to restore confidence and push on with restructuring plans that include carving out investment banking into an independent US-based business and focusing on Switzerland as well as on managing money for wealthy clients.
But it may not be out of the woods yet.
“In our view, status quo is no longer an option as counterparty concerns are starting to emerge as reflected by credit/equity markets weakness,” the JP Morgan analysts wrote in a research note Thursday, adding that a takeover — probably by bigger Swiss rival UBS — was the most likely endgame.
Local media reported that the Swiss government would hold an extraordinary meeting Thursday to discuss the situation at Credit Suisse, according to Reuters. The finance ministry declined to comment to CNN.
Fears about weaker lenders exploded last week when Silicon Valley Bank collapsed in the biggest US banking failure since the global financial crisis. But the trigger for Wednesday’s rout in Credit Suisse shares came from comments by the bank’s biggest backer — the Saudi National Bank — that it wasn’t prepared to put up more money after buying a near-10% stake for $1.5 billion last year.
Speaking on Thursday, the chairman of Saudi Arabia’s biggest bank said the panic was unwarranted.
“It’s panic, a little bit of panic, I believe completely unwarranted whether it be for Credit Suisse or for the entire market,” Ammar Al Khudairy told CNBC.
Some analysts cautioned that the spotlight might now shift from Credit Suisse to other parts of the financial sector.
“The problems at Credit Suisse are very different to those that brought down SVB a few days ago,” Neil Shearing, chief economist at Capital Economics, wrote in a note to clients. “But they serve as a reminder that as interest rates rise, vulnerabilities are lurking in the financial system. Key areas to monitor are smaller European banks and shadow banks.”
Interest rates in the euro area have soared from minus 0.5% last June to 2.5% in February. The European Central Bank announced another half-percentage point hike Thursday, taking rates to 3%, as it judged stubbornly high inflation to be more of a risk to the economy than the recent banking turmoil.
The ECB has the tools if needs to respond if there were a liquidity crisis, “but this is not what we are seeing,” ECB President Christine Lagarde told reporters. “Those tools exist; they are strong, they are powerful and they can be reactivated any time.”
ECB vice president Luis de Guindos told reporters that the boost to bank profits from rising interest rates “more than offsets” any losses they might suffer on their holdings of government bonds as a consequence of higher borrowing costs.
— Hanna Ziady, Anna Cooban, Olesya Dmitracova and Rob North contributed to this article.
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