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UBS restarts share buybacks, targets more cost cuts from Credit Suisse takeover

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UBS (UBSG.S) said on Tuesday it would restart share buybacks and lifted cost-cutting targets, saying the integration of fallen rival Credit Suisse was on track, but higher expenses made for underwhelming fourth-quarter results.

Its shares were down 2.8 per cent in early trade.

The Swiss bank affirmed key financial targets and set new ones, including an ambition for its wealth management arm to boost invested assets to $5 trillion by 2028 from $3.85 trillion currently.

It lifted its cost cutting target to $13 billion by the end of 2026, with around half expected to be achieved this year. That’s up from a previous goal of more than $10 billion.

“With enhanced scale and capabilities across our leading client franchises and improved resource discipline, we will drive sustainable long-term growth and higher returns,” CEO Sergio Ermotti said in a statement.

Analysts gave the results a lukewarm response, although they welcomed a proposed 27 per cent increase in its 2023 dividend to $0.70 per share.

“While Q4 results disappointed on costs (revenues broadly in line), targeting higher gross savings out to 2026 should provide some comfort that costs can remain under control,” said RBC analyst Anke Reingen.

“We believe the update may underwhelm high expectations,” wrote Keefe, Bruyette & Woods analyst Thomas Hallett.

The cost of absorbing Credit Suisse led the world’s biggest wealth manager to post a net loss of $279 million in the fourth quarter, slightly smaller than a company-compiled consensus estimate for a $285 million loss.

The share buybacks, beginning with up to $1 billion in the second half of the year after the merger with Credit Suisse is finalised, are a long-awaited move.

The lender’s previous $6 billion program from 2022 was initially slated to end in March 2024 but was put on hold following the Credit Suisse acquisition.

“Our ambition is for share repurchases to exceed our pre-acquisition levels by 2026,” the bank said.

UBS’s investment bank reported a pretax loss of $169 million but is expected to return to profitability in the first quarter “due to improving market activity, a growing banking pipeline and advanced progress on the integration.”

Since the shotgun takeover was announced last March – marking the first-ever merger of two global systemically important banks, UBS has managed to avoid any major ructions and has seen its share price jump some 50 per cent.

That said, it has still to tackle some of the trickier stages of integrating the two banks such as combining the separate IT systems as well as its legal entities.

The bank is set to begin migrating Credit Suisse clients, with clients in Singapore, Hong Kong and Luxembourg the first to be moved.

Concerns also abound about the potential for friction with regulators who worry about risks to the Swiss economy should the now-huge bank get into trouble and given its dominance of key areas like domestic commercial lending. UBS’s balance sheet has expanded to be worth more more than $1.6 trillion, nearly twice the size of Switzerland’s economy.

UBS has said the focus on its balance sheet is misleading, adding that it holds around 20 per cent of total assets in highly liquid assets and another 15 per cent in low-risk mortgages to retail and wealthy clients.

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