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UBS agrees to buy Credit Suisse as regulators seek to strengthen global banking system


UBS has agreed to buy embattled rival Credit Suisse, with Swiss regulators playing a key role in the deal as governments seek to stem a contagion threatening the global banking system.

“With the takeover of Credit Suisse by UBS, a solution has been found to ensure financial stability and protect the Swiss economy in this exceptional situation,” reads a statement from the Swiss National Bank, which notes that the central bank worked with the Swiss government and the Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority to bring together the country’s two largest banks.

Credit Suisse headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland, on March 19, 2023.
Credit Suisse headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland, on March 19, 2023.Michael Buholzer/Keystone via AP

The Swiss National Bank has pledged a loan of up to 100 billion ($108 billion) Swiss francs to support the takeover. The Swiss government has also granted a guarantee to assume losses of up to 9 billion Swiss francs of certain assets above a predefined threshold “in order to reduce any risk for UBS”, said a separate statement from the government. No amount was indicated in the original statement.

The UBS deal was rushed ahead of the reopening of markets on Monday after Credit Suisse shares posted their worst weekly decline since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. The losses came despite a new loan of up to 50 billion Swiss francs ($54 billion) from the Swiss central bank to halt the slide and restore confidence among the bank’s counterparties in financial markets.

Credit Suisse had already struggled with a series of losses and scandals, and in the past two weeks sentiment has been shaken again as US banks reeled from the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank. US regulators’ support for uninsured deposits at failing banks and the creation of a new funding facility for other troubled financial institutions have failed to stem the shock and threaten to wrap more banks in the states. United and overseas.

Credit Suisse Chairman Axel Lehmann told the press conference that the financial instability caused by the collapse of US regional banks hit the bank at the wrong time.

Despite regulators’ involvement in the pairing, the deal gives UBS the autonomy to manage the acquired assets as it sees fit, which could mean significant job cuts, sources told CNBC’s David Faber .

Credit Suisse’s scale and potential impact on the global economy is far greater than regional US banks, which have been lobbying Swiss regulators to find a way to bring the two largest financial institutions closer to the country. Credit Suisse’s balance sheet is about double that of Lehman Brothers when it collapsed, at about 530 billion Swiss francs at the end of 2022. It’s also much more globally interconnected, with multiple international subsidiaries, which allows an orderly management of the situation of Credit Suisse. even more important.

Bringing the two rivals together was not without difficulties, but the pressure to avoid a systemic crisis finally prevailed. UBS originally offered to buy Credit Suisse for around $1 billion on Sunday, according to multiple media outlets. Credit Suisse reportedly balked at the offer, arguing it was too low and would hurt shareholders and employees, people familiar with the matter told Bloomberg.

On Sunday afternoon, UBS was in talks to buy the bank for ‘substantially’ over a billion Swiss francs, sources say told CNBC’s Faber. He said the price of the deal rose throughout the day’s negotiations.

Credit Suisse lost around 38% of its deposits in the fourth quarter of 2022 and revealed in its delayed annual report early last week that outflows have yet to reverse. It reported a net loss of 7.3 billion Swiss francs for the year 2022 and expects another “substantial” loss in 2023.

The bank previously announced a massive strategic overhaul in a bid to address these chronic issues, with current CEO and Credit Suisse veteran Ulrich Koerner taking over in July.

Catherine Bishop contributed.

Joanna Swanson

Joanna Swanson is Europe correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Brussels covering politics, culture, business, climate change, society, economies and inclusive tech. With specific focus in breaking news, she has covered some of the world's most significant stories.