UBS: to affinity and beyond with European banking’s high flyer

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In the movie Toy Story, attempts at flying by astronaut Buzz Lightyear are described as “falling with style” by a rival. Detractors of UBS may have the same complaint after underlying pre-tax profits — to adjust for the losses from Archegos — slipped 8 per cent to $2.7bn. The Swiss bank still soared clear of analysts’ profit expectations by almost a fifth. But its earnings rocket, global wealth management, sputtered and the capital buffer shrank.

Neither issue should shake the affinity for UBS of investors seeking exposure to European financial services. The shares trade a tenth above their tangible book value, reflecting the worth of the capital-light wealth management franchise. They are valued in line with the MSCI World Bank index and well ahead of regional peers.

Investment banking provided the impetus for UBS to beat analyst forecasts. Even as group profits fell back, equities trading still managed a small gain against last year’s profit number, adjusting for Archegos losses. Considering that stock prices took a large hit after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, that seems a small victory. The investment bank’s underlying $960mn pre-tax profit was 71 per cent above consensus.

The contrast was with wealth management, where pre-tax profits fell 7 per cent. This was mainly the result of reduced Asian client activity, amid the grinding Chinese bear market for equity and property. More positively, net new fee-generating assets climbed 5 per cent to $19.4bn, though the inflow was almost half the amount received a year before.

Market volatility during the quarter pushed up risk-weighted assets for UBS, diminishing the proportion of capital buffer. The common equity tier 1 ratio fell 70 basis points to 14.3 per cent, irking shareholders accustomed to the half per cent gain each quarter. Surplus capital bolsters payouts.

UBS upped its promise of share buybacks slightly to compensate, enabling the share price to land more firmly than Buzz. It rose, easily beating a sluggish sector. Longer term, the flight plan of UBS is supported by £4.4tn of invested assets. That is a lot of lift.

The Lex team is interested in hearing more from readers. Please tell us what you think of UBS in the comments section below

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