Greensill, Archegos fallout takes shine off Credit Suisse

Zurich (AFP) –


Analysts fear Credit Suisse's reputation has taken a heavy hit from its exposure to the fallout from recent bankruptcies at British financial firm Greensill and US hedge fund Archegos.

"It will take time to build the reputation after such damage," said Vontobel analyst Andreas Venditti after Switzerland's second-largest bank said Tuesday it would return to investors a further $1.7 billion of a total $10 billion it had tied up in Greensill.

The British firm specialised in short-term corporate loans via a complex and opaque business model that ultimately sparked its declaration of insolvency last month.

Meanwhile Archegos was forced to sell massive amounts of shares all at once, triggering upset on financial markets.

The two collapses combined have made for a 4.4-billion-franc (3.9 billion euros, $4.7 billion) charge on Credit Suisse's first-quarter earnings, prompting ratings agency S&P to review but ultimately maintain its creditworthiness.

S&P lowered Credit Suisse's outlook, but said it should have enough reserves to soak up the pain for now.

- Image risk -

Beyond the financial losses, Credit Suisse runs the risk of angry clients moving their money elsewhere, analysts warn.

So far the amount it has promised to return to investors from its four Greensill funds is $4.8 billion -- less than half the original amount.

"We remain acutely aware of the uncertainty that the wind-down process creates for those of our clients who are invested in the funds," the bank said in a statement Tuesday.

"Credit Suisse Asset Management continues to work on identifying and progressing options to secure recovery," it added.

Specialising in short-term loans to businesses, Greensill shot from obscurity to the headlines as its bankruptcy brought complex financial dealings to light.

Without its backing, many clients face difficulties paying the bills, including the empire of steel magnate Sanjeev Gupta.

- Under fire -

Two Credit Suisse board members have already lost their jobs over the upheaval, which has forced the bank to lower its planned dividend payout and bonuses ahead of its annual investor meeting.

Those moves have not quieted critics.

"We have been warning about the risks from trading in derivative products since 2009, since the financial crisis," said Karin Landolt, spokeswoman for major Swiss shareholder organisation Actares.

Ethos, a foundation representing pension funds that issues voting recommendations for companies' annual meetings, has been "critical for a long time" of Credit Suisse's direction, its chief Vincent Kaufmann said.

In 2011, Ethos warned that the commercial banking division was "too small to compete with the American banks" and should be sold rather than encouraged to continue taking risks, he added.

But while CS bosses clipped the unit's wings, they did not get rid of it completely, one reason why the foundation opposed reelecting chief executive Urs Rohner in 2017.

Antonio Horta-Osorio, chief executive of British bank Lloyds, is to take over at the Swiss lender once Rohner leaves this month.

He "will have to carry out a big, thorough overhaul," Kaufmann predicted.