Road to UBS recovery wobbly

UBS American HQA bitter U.S. tax row has hit UBS harder than many investors thought and the Swiss wealth management giant is still losing more rich client money than what it manages to attract, its disappointing third-quarter results showed.

UBS shares tanked and the data suggest turnaround maestro Oswald Gruebel may have to work a bit harder to bring home the profit that will convince the super rich to stick around.

“Reputation is a fragile dimension, painstaking to build but easily broken. It will take a more than persuasive convincing for wealthy clients to fully perceive the firm as a safe haven again, even though there are positive shoots of normality returning,” said Cubillas Ding, senior analyst at international financial research and consulting firm Celent.

Will the arrival of Merrill Lynch veteran Robert McCann, hired to restore trust in UBS’ battered American wealth franchise, improve things?

Photo credit: The U.S. flag flies outside the U.S. headquarters of Swiss bank UBS in New York August 4, 2009.  REUTERS/Brendan McDermid (UNITED STATES BUSINESS)

S&P: No subtext in industrial exodus from benchmark

Manitowoc Co is set to be the third U.S. manufacturer dropped from the Standard & Poor’s 500 index this year — but the brains behind the benchmark said the shift does not reflect a desire to soft-pedal the sector. 

David Blitzer“Our general concern about sectors is the proportions of sectors in the market and the index should be close to one another, and close is around a percentage point or so,” said David Blitzer, an S&P managing director who chairs the index committee. “Given that the 500 is 75 to 80 percent of the total market cap of the U.S. market, we’re never going to be too far off.”

S&P said late on Monday that it would remove Manitowoc, a maker of cranes and ships, from the benchmark S&P 500 after the close of trading on Aug. 31, noting that its market capitalization ranked it last in the group.

UBS’ Tax Break

UBS shares are on the rise after news of a deal in principle to end U.S. government tax litigation against the Swiss wealth management giant. This probably involves the bank handing over the names of 5,000 U.S. clients holding secret Swiss accounts, or 10 percent of the names Washington was after. The best news for investors right now is there is no fine involved.

Hardly the end of uncertainty the market would normally crave. While the deal will not formally violate Swiss bank secrecy rules, it’s hardly going to end pressure on Switzerland and UBS — and the entire offshore financial world — to stop shielding the wealthy from paying their dues.

For now, the ebbing threat of a fine, removing the risk of more capital-raising by UBS, is being welcomed. Now, all the bank needs is a business model built on better citizenship. Perhaps they can manage something dramatic before they report quarterly results tomorrow. UBS is expected to post a second-quarter net loss of 1.1 billion Swiss francs ($1 billion). It lost billions of business from wealthy clients after it handed over about 250 names in February to settle a separate U.S. criminal probe.

Poking holes in the Swiss

A federal judge has agreed to delay the UBS tax-evasion trial as the U.S. and the Swiss seek a resolution. UBS shares gained strongly on the presumption that a delay was near.

A source familiar with the situation told Reuters the talks, now led by the U.S. and Swiss governments, were aimed at finding a way to allow the bank to transfer client data without breaching Swiss law. No doubt the discussions, and perhaps even the nature of a settlement, will be murky.

That a settlement is being sought may be a short-sighted reason to buy UBS stock. Without its precious secrecy to define it, Swiss banking would lose the standing that has made it the wealth-management center of the world. The fact that the two sides are talking may indicate Washington is willing to accept less than unconditional surrender. But make no mistake: Settlement means less secrecy, not more. While a settlement would help the bank with this particular mess, it could have an added sting in the form of a payment from UBS to the U.S. government.

Can the G20 save the world?

G20Rumors of the death of globalization and capitalism have been greatly exaggerated. The world’s 20 leading nations have committed to resolve the economic crisis together, which if followed through – emphasis on “if” – will probably keep globalization alive. They also look largely committed to resisting the temptations of protectionism, an issue which was increasingly worrying multinationals.

All this bodes well for continued cross-border M&A. However, tighter and globalized regulation of financial markets will mean that raising acquisition finance will never again be as easy as it was during the roaring noughties. The highly leveraged buyout may now indefinitely remain a footnote in the history books.

The prospect of “shadow” banking systems being more regulated could also reduce funding sources. Besides the ongoing market pressures this could see less hedge funds and private equity groups over the long-term. One of their edges, besides leverage, was being less regulated than other financial type organizations. And on the subject of leverage, the promise of more regulation and stricter controls on lending could favor equity as a source of funding over debt. The restricted use of credit will shift the focus to creating value rather than financial engineering making acquirers more selective about their targets. A sort of back-to-basics.