UBS offices in Lausanne, Switzerland. Picture: AFP/FABRICE COFFRINI
UBS offices in Lausanne, Switzerland. Picture: AFP/FABRICE COFFRINI

 Zurich — UBS delivered its best second-quarter results in nearly a decade on Tuesday, as strength in Swiss retail and corporate banking helped to offset weakness in wealth management.

Switzerland’s biggest bank also said gains in its corporate deals business cushioned a fall in profits in investment banking — a problem area for all global banks as investors fret about slowing economies and geopolitical tensions.

“Diversification paid off again,” CEO Sergio Ermotti told CNBC, adding that client sentiment had improved, which augured well for the third quarter.

A 1% rise in second-quarter net profit to $1.4bn was well ahead of analysts’ consensus forecast for a 24.9% slide, according to a poll compiled by the bank, despite falls at both its flagship wealth management business and its investment bank.

UBS shares were up 2.5% in afternoon trade on Tuesday.

After benefiting from a shift to the traditionally steady wealth management business years ahead of rival Credit Suisse, UBS has recently been hit by a slew of troubles — from cash hoarding by its wealthy clients to a €4.5bn fine it is contesting in France and a public relations disaster in China.

The bank agreed in June to pay €101m  to resolve a dispute over money laundering and taxes with Italy’s tax authority, according to regulatory filings released with UBS’s second-quarter earnings. UBS declined to comment on the settlement with Italy.

Some analysts are also questioning whether it will be able to achieve midterm targets in wealth management set in October.

Cost cutting

The bank is looking to cut 2019 costs by at least $300m to boost margins. It brought general and administrative expenses down $282m year on year over the first six months as it curbed spending on travel, entertainment, marketing and public relations, and cut its outsourced IT workforce.

It said it expected to grow its dividend per share by a mid-single-digit percentage this year, at the lower end of its midterm goal.

Falling US interest rates have been squeezing banks, hitting net interest income and raising competition in lending.

Major US banks have reported falls in both revenues and profits from lower investment banking and fees.

UBS’s investment bank posted a 23% profit decline, with equities revenue down 9% and foreign exchange, rates and credit down 7%, echoing soft results from Wall Street banks last week.

Advisory revenues, however, leapt 59%, as it profited from new hirings in Asia and the US, as well as a strong deals pipeline, helping its corporate client solutions business regain lost market share.

Facing a competitive and largely saturated Swiss wealth management market and sluggish growth prospects in Europe, UBS has set its sights on expanding its business with the rich and ultrarich in the US, helping the Americas to become the only region in which second-quarter revenues and profits were up in its flagship business.

UBS, the world’s largest wealth manager, saw net new money outflows of $2bn from April to end-June, as customers withdrew more than $5bn to pay taxes.

It is also testing waters on potential partnerships in markets where it is difficult for foreign banks to gain ground, announcing a new joint venture deal with Japan’s Sumitomo Mitsui Trust in June.

It is aiming for pretax profit growth in wealth management at the upper end of the unit’s 10%-15% target over 2019-2021, with fresh money growth at an annual rate of 2%-4%.