Any bargain hunters hoping to snap up Credit Suisse Group AG now that the lender’s revamp has pushed its stock down yet again might find themselves getting short shrift.
“We are going to thrive again, so we don’t have any takeover discussions,” Credit Suisse chairman Axel Lehmann said in an interview with Bloomberg Television in Hong Kong on Monday. “We want to stay independent.”
With its share price slumping by more than half this year, the 166-year-old institution has been vulnerable to rumors of takeover bids and concerns over its stability.
Lehmann said that the 4 billion Swiss franc (US$4 billion) capital increase would make the lender “rock solid,” helping it to carry out a vital restructuring that radically downsizes the loss-making investment bank and shrinks its trading operations.
“Going forward, Credit Suisse is really a wealth management-centric franchise, centered around entrepreneurs, wealthy clients,” Lehmann said, adding that the bank plans to push ahead with growth efforts in key Latin America, Asia-Pacific and Middle East markets.
“We are a wealth manager, and asset management goes alongside,” he said.
The executive said he is “highly confident” that Credit Suisse can secure an agreement over the next week in relation to the sale of the majority of a securitized-products trading business to a group led by private equity firm Apollo Global Management Inc.
The bank plans to retain a stream of revenue from the business, Lehmann said.
On Monday, the bank detailed plans to raise capital through a rights issue and selling shares to investors including Saudi National Bank, which is set to become one of the lender’s top shareholders.
To assist with the process, the company announced an enlarged syndicate of banks that includes Wall Street names such as Goldman Sachs Group Inc, European lenders such as BNP Paribas SA and Barclays PLC, as well as firms in Asia.
Approximately 1.8 billion Swiss francs has been committed by several anchor investors, while the rest of the rights issue is fully underwritten, Lehmann said.
Lehmann, 63, is a Swiss insider who spent almost two decades at Zurich Insurance before a stint at UBS Group AG. Since joining the Credit Suisse board of directors late last year, he has brought a more modest style to tackling the bank’s difficulties.
He took the role of chairman in January, pledging to dispense with “grandiose announcements and promises,” in favor of “humility and consistent execution.”
Following the capital increase announcement, Lehmann himself has bought about US$1 million of shares to display confidence in the bank’s strategy.
Credit Suisse is also starting initial headcount reductions of 2,700 positions in the fourth quarter and would ultimately slash the workforce by about 17 percent, or approximately 9,000 roles.
Lehmann declined to elaborate on which regions would be most affected by the job cuts.
Lehmann sidestepped a question on whether accepting investment from the Saudi Arabian lender, which is 37 percent owned by the kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund, would draw the ire of the US and Swiss governments over its human rights record.
“We are very happy that we have an investor like the Saudi National Bank. It’s a private institution, and I think this is also a region that is growing,” he said.
Lehmann was also bullish on the growth prospects for the Asia-Pacific region, and pushed back at any suggestion the lender is considering dialing down its commitment to China given the nation’s growth slump and geopolitical concerns.
“I think the region really has inherent growth,” Lehmann said, adding that the firm monitors geopolitical tensions carefully. “Hong Kong will continue to play a pre-eminent role as a global financial center — we are and we will stay committed to that.”
The bank’s wealth-management arm has now stabilized after what Lehmann called a “social-media storm” prompted some investors to pull cash from the bank.
“I would anticipate that we will have further inflows in the weeks and months to come,” he said.
“We have a lot of clients that told us they would come back,” he added.
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