Troubled bank Credit Suisse has been rescued by its Swiss rival UBS [Union Bank of Switzerland] in a government-backed deal. Sunday evening's announcement came after a weekend of emergency talks in Switzerland between the two banks and the country's financial regulators. The Swiss National Bank said the deal was the best way to restore the confidence of financial markets and to manage risks to the economy.
Credit Suisse shareholders were deprived of a vote on the deal and will receive one share in UBS for every 22.48 shares they own, valuing the bank at $3.15bn (£2.6bn). At the close of business on Friday Credit Suisse was valued at around $8bn (£6.5bn). But the deal has achieved what regulators set out to do - securing a result before the financial markets opened on Monday. In a statement Switzerland's central bank said "a solution has been found to secure financial stability and protect the Swiss economy in this exceptional situation". The federal government said in order to reduce any risks for UBS it would grant a guarantee against potential losses worth $9.6bn (£7.9bn) The Swiss central bank has also offered liquidity assistance of up to $110bn (£90bn).
So farewell to Credit Suisse. Founded in 1856, the bank has been a pillar of the Swiss financial sector ever since. Although buffeted by the financial crisis of 2008, Credit Suisse did manage to weather that storm without a government bailout, unlike its rival-turned-rescuer UBS. More recently, the marketing face of Credit Suisse has been Switzerland's tennis god Roger Federer. He smiles down from posters at Swiss airports, a symbol of strength, excellence, staying power and reliability. But behind the glossy promotion were some big problems. Divisive management, costly exposure to collapsed finance company Greensill Capital, a seedy money laundering case, and waning customer confidence in the last few months, which saw billions being withdrawn from the bank. All it took to turn those doubts into a stampede was an apparently off the cuff remark from the Saudi National Bank, which owns almost 10% of Credit Suisse, suggesting it would not be increasing its investment. Credit Suisse's shares went into free fall, and even a statement of confidence from the Swiss National Bank, and an offer of $50bn (£41bn) in financial support, couldn't stabilise the situation.
How could this have happened? After the financial crisis 15 years ago Switzerland introduced strict so-called "too big to fail" laws for its biggest banks. Never again, went the thinking, should the Swiss taxpayer have to bail out a Swiss bank, as happened with UBS. But Credit Suisse is a "too big to fail" bank. In theory, it had the capital to prevent this week's catastrophe. Also in theory Swiss financial regulators and the Swiss National Bank keep an eye on those systemically important banks and can intervene before disaster strikes. It was odd, last week, to see the rest of the world reacting with real concern as Credit Suisse shares tumbled, and to hear, at first, nothing from Switzerland.
As the government met in emergency session to try to find a solution, you could almost smell the panic in Bern. It's hard to avoid the conclusion, some Swiss are now saying, that the very people who should have acted to prevent Credit Suisse's meltdown were asleep at the wheel. That lack of attention is going to be very costly. UBS's takeover, for the paltry sum of $3 billion, besides being an utter humiliation for Credit Suisse, is likely to leave its shareholders a good bit poorer. There will also be job losses, perhaps in the thousands. There are Credit Suisse and UBS branches in just about every Swiss town. Once the takeover is complete, there will be little point in UBS keeping them all open. But perhaps the most costly damage of all could be to Switzerland's reputation as a safe place to invest.
"Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts." - Daniel Patrick Moynihan