UBS will acquire Credit Suisse in deal worth billions

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Swiss bank UBS is acquiring smaller rival Credit Suisse for $3 billion Swiss francs ($4.4 billion Cdn). 

Swiss President Alain Berset announced the deal on Sunday night. He called the announcement “one of great breadth for the stability of international finance. An uncontrolled collapse of Credit Suisse would lead to incalculable consequences for the country and the international financial system.”

Credit Suisse is designated by the Financial Stability Board, an international body that monitors the global financial system, as one of the world’s globally systemic important banks. This means regulators believe its uncontrolled failure would lead to ripples throughout the financial system not unlike the collapse of Lehman Brothers 15 years ago.

Sunday’s news conference follows the collapse of two large U.S. banks last week that spurred a frantic, broad response from the U.S. government to prevent any further bank panics. Still, global financial markets have been on edge since Credit Suisse’s share price began plummeting this week. 

It was not yet clear if the deal is enough to restore trust in lenders around the world. The first indication could come when stock markets open in a few hours in Asia, Australia and New Zealand.

The Swiss central bank will supply substantial liquidity to the merged bank, it said at a news conference in the Swiss capital, Bern. It said the deal includes 100 billion Swiss francs ($148.4 billion Cdn) in liquidity assistance for UBS and Credit Suisse.

The deal was announced just days after the 167-year-old Credit Suisse received a $50 billion US ($68.6 billion Cdn) loan from the Swiss National Bank, which briefly caused a rally in the bank’s stock price. Yet the move did not appear to be enough to stem an outflow of deposits, according to news reports. 

Still, many of Credit Suisse’s problems are unique and do not overlap with the weaknesses that brought down Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank, whose failures led to a significant rescue effort by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and the Federal Reserve. As a result, their downfall does not necessarily signal the start of a financial crisis similar to what occurred in 2008. 

News of the deal caps a highly volatile week for Credit Suisse, most notably on Wednesday when its shares plunged to a record low after its largest investor, the Saudi National Bank, said it wouldn’t invest any more money into the bank to avoid tripping regulations that would kick in if its stake rose about 10 per cent. 

On Friday, shares dropped eight per cent to close at 1.86 francs ($2.76 Cdn) on the Swiss exchange. The stock has seen a long downward slide: It traded at more than 80 francs in 2007.

Its current troubles began after Credit Suisse reported on Tuesday that managers had identified “material weaknesses” in the bank’s internal controls on financial reporting as of the end of last year. That fanned fears that Credit Suisse would be the next domino to fall. 

The Credit Suisse logo is shown next to a clock.
The illuminated logo of Swiss bank Credit Suisse is seen behind a clock at the banks headquarters at Paradeplatz in Zurich, Switzerland on Saturday, March 18, 2023. (Michael Buholzer/Keystone via AP)

While smaller than its Swiss rival UBS, Credit Suisse is considered a global systemically important bank. The firm has significant trading desks around the world, caters to the rich and wealthy through its wealth management business, and is a major adviser for global companies in mergers and acquisitions. Notably, Credit Suisse did not need government assistance in 2008 during the financial crisis, while UBS did. 

Despite the banking turmoil, the European Central Bank (ECB) on Thursday approved a large, half-percentage point increase in interest rates to try to curb stubbornly high inflation, saying Europe’s banking sector is “resilient,” with strong finances. ECB President Christine Lagarde said the banks “are in a completely different position from 2008” during the financial crisis, partly because of stricter government regulation.

The Swiss bank has been pushing to raise money from investors and roll out a new strategy to overcome an array of troubles, including bad bets on hedge funds, repeated shake-ups of its top management and a spying scandal involving UBS

The Current19:15How Credit Suisse reached a crisis point

Two U.S. banks collapsed in less than a week, while in Europe, Credit Suisse teetered on the brink of failure before Switzerland’s central bank stepped in with a loan. Are there implications for Canada’s banking sector? Matt Galloway talks to Eric Reguly, European bureau chief for The Globe and Mail; and Kenneth Rogoff, a professor of economics at Harvard University and former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund.