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Credit Suisse Seeks Circuit Breaker With $54 Billion Line

Credit Suisse Seeks Circuit Breaker With $54 Billion Line
Ulrich Koerner Photographer: Hollie Adams/Bloomberg

Credit Suisse Group AG sought to arrest a collapse in investor confidence Thursday by opening a 50 billion Swiss franc ($54 billion) credit line with the country’s central bank and offering to buy back debt, as executives and government officials plot the next steps for the troubled lender. 

Shares in Credit Suisse initially surged as much as 40% before paring gains, remaining lower than Wednesday when they lost the most since the 2008 financial crisis. As analysts began to question how much time the announcement has bought, the Swiss Federal Council was setting up a special meeting for Thursday to discuss the situation.

Meanwhile, Credit Suisse’s top shareholder earlier said “everything is fine” and the bank isn’t likely to seek more capital, the day after his comments helped spark the share turmoil. Worries about Credit Suisse’s financial health have roiled global markets over the past 24 hours, alarmed regulators across Europe and the US and prompted some firms to reassess their exposure to the bank.

The government, central bank and regulator Finma have been in close contact to discuss ways to stabilize Credit Suisse. Ideas floated — beyond the public show of support — include a separation of the bank’s Swiss unit and a long-shot orchestrated tie-up with larger Swiss rival UBS Group AG, people familiar with the matter said, cautioning that it’s unclear which, if any, of these steps would actually be executed. Credit Suisse has not yet used the credit line at the Swiss National Bank, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Credit Suisse shares traded up 22% at 2.08 Swiss francs as of 1:02 p.m. in Zurich. They’ve lost about 25% of their value this year.

Read More: European Stocks Waver as Credit Suisse Shares Soar: Markets Wrap

In the meantime, executives are insisting that a strategic revamp announced in October remains the core plan to turn around the bank, and the debt repurchases underline the core strength of the bank.

Read more:
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Credit Suisse Offers to Buy Back Debt for About 3 Billion Francs
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“These measures demonstrate decisive action to strengthen Credit Suisse as we continue our strategic transformation,” Chief Executive Officer Ulrich Koerner said in a statement. “My team and I are resolved to move forward rapidly to deliver a simpler and more focused bank built around client needs.”

Analysts at JPMorgan Chase & Co. however see a takeover of the bank as the most likely outcome.

Analysts led by Kian Abouhossein laid out three scenarios for Credit Suisse amid a crisis of investor confidence in the bank, and say that a takeover — with rival UBS Group AG a probable option for this — is the most likely.

A deal could be followed by a listing or spinoff of the Swiss Bank part of the lender, worth 10 billion Swiss francs ($10.8 billion), given the market concentration between Credit Suisse and UBS, said the analysts, who have a neutral rating on Credit Suisse.

Debt Repurchase

Credit Suisse announced at least its second debt repurchase in just the past six months as it looks to restore investor confidence. It offered to buy back about $3 billion of its debt in October last year, saying at that time it wanted to “take advantage of market conditions to repurchase debt at attractive prices.”

The latest tender offer applies to ten senior debt securities for up to $2.5 billion, as well as four euro-denominated senior debt securities for as much as 500 million euros.

The borrowing comes in the form of a covered loan facility as well as a short-term liquidity facility, which are fully collateralized by high quality assets, the bank said. As of the end of 2022, Credit Suisse had a CET1 ratio of 14.1% and an average liquidity coverage ratio of 144%, which has since improved to approximately 150% as of March 14, it added. The Swiss National Bank declined to comment further on the terms of the facility.

Switzerland’s second-largest lender, which traces its roots back to 1856, has been battered over the last several years by a series of blowups, scandals, leadership overhaul and legal issues. The company’s 7.3 billion franc loss last year wiped out the previous decade’s worth of profits, and the bank’s second strategy pivot in as many years has so far failed to win over investors or halt client outflows.

Client Outflows

The lender said in its annual report earlier this week that client outflows continued into March, though Koerner later said on Bloomberg Television that the bank attracted funds after the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank.

The ground for Credit Suisse’s sudden lurch had been laid earlier in the week as investors sought to move away from banking risk after turmoil induced by the failure of the US lender. The Swiss bank’s stock then plunged to the lowest level on record after the the chairman of Saudi National Bank said it wouldn’t boost its share of the bank past the current level of just under 10%.

Koerner on Tuesday asked for patience and said the bank’s financial position is sound. He pointed to the firm’s liquidity coverage ratio, which indicates the bank can handle more than a month’s worth of outflows in a period of stress. Chairman Axel Lehmann had said at a conference on Wednesday that government assistance “isn’t a topic” and the firm’s efforts to return to profitability aren’t comparable to the severe liquidity issues hitting smaller lenders in the US.

(Updates markets. An earlier version of the story was corrected to show the bank repurchases debt.)
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