July 21, 2019
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Deutsche Bank's best shot may not be enough

By Stephen Wilmot

Madrid Desk, Jul 8 (efe-epa).- In theory, Deutsche Bank's strategic reset is as sensible as it is overdue. In practice, it will require flawless execution and may not go far enough, according to a report from Dow Jones Newswires supplied to Efe on Monday.

Germany's top lender laid out a radical restructuring plan on Sunday. It will shutter key elements of the global investment-banking operation, notably equities trading, and shift about a fifth of its assets into a new "bad bank" to be wound down. The basic idea is to shrink back to its historic core: serving the treasury needs of big companies and German savers.

This addresses one of the reasons for Deutsche Bank's woefully low profitability: the losses it makes in global investment banking operations that cannot compete with those of far larger US rivals. Equities trading is a scale and technology game increasingly dominated by JP Morgan, Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs.

It doesn't address another reason: Retail banking in Germany has never made much money. Hundreds of savings banks and state-backed lenders compete against commercial banks like Deutsche for customers. And the emphasis is on saving rather than borrowing, leaving banks with excess deposits to invest at the European Central Bank's negative interest rates.

The problem is illustrated by Deutsche Bank's local rival and failed merger partner Commerzbank. Commerzbank has already walked the stony restructuring path Deutsche is now contemplating, yet its shares still only fetch 0.29 times book value, compared with 0.24 times for Deutsche. Being a focused German lender just isn't an attractive prospect for investors.

However, there isn't much Deutsche can do about this. It needs the deposit base provided by its German retail bank to fund a more lucrative business serving corporate clients.

The new targets announced Sunday leave very little room for error. Estimated restructuring charges of 7.4 billion euros by the end of 2022 will cut its core tier-one equity ratio to 12.7 percent, according to brokerage Berenberg, from 13.7 percent at the end of the first quarter. That is just a fraction above Deutsche Bank's new minimum targeted ratio of 12.5 percent.

It is also unclear just how committed Chief Executive Christian Sewing is to getting out of investment banking. He may be quitting equities trading, but he is keeping the US leveraged finance division, which lends money in private-equity deals.

Presumably this is because the business is making good returns, but it is also at risk of overheating and has little to do with the new strategy. Credit Suisse has sent similarly mixed messages by keeping US structured finance even as it tries to refocus on fast-growing Asian wealth management.

Both companies would do better to sell the units while they can get good prices, added the Dow Jones report.

Hidden within Deutsche Bank is a solid business serving big companies' banking needs. For the industry, revenue from these clients should grow at four times the rate of revenue from money managers what during the period through 2021, according to a report by Morgan Stanley and Oliver Wyman. Deutsche Bank needs to do everything it can to tap this growth -- free of distractions. EFE-EPA

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Related content

Deutsche Bank shares fall as restructuring begins

By Jenny Strasburg and Max Bernhard

Madrid Desk, Jul 8 (efe-epa).- Deutsche Bank AG shares fell Monday as investors digested details of a huge restructuring of the German lender, according to a report from Dow Jones Newswires supplied to Efe on Monday.

Shares were down 1.1 percent at 7.10 euros having initially risen in early trade. The German bank said Sunday it expects to post a net loss of 2.8 billion euros ($3.14 billion) as a result of restructuring-related costs when it reports second-quarter results on July 24. It plans about 18,000 global job cuts by 2022. That represents about one out of five current full-time employees.

In a call to reporters on Monday, Chief Executive Christian Sewing declined to give a regional breakdown of the planned cuts but said they wouldn't be concentrated on one region. Sewing said the investment bank would come out of the restructuring smaller but more stable.

The bank needs to focus on the business areas where it is most competitive, he said. In the past, "we simply spread ourselves too thin," he added.

Sewing said the company received a lot of unsolicited interest in the assets that it plans to exit.

The lender, whose share price has been near a record low for months, will focus on serving European companies and retail-banking customers, including wealthy clients. It is aiming to strengthen businesses like asset management, currency trading, corporate-cash management and trade finance that support its narrower focus.

Even though Deutsch Bank's shares had declined on Monday, analysts had generally praised the cuts, calling them deeper than expected, even considering the details that leaked ahead of time. But they also expressed concerns that the bank's targets, including its 8 percent targeted return on tangible equity by 2022, could be too ambitious.

The bank's home-country disadvantage -- Germany is a low-margin retail market -- and other headwinds pose risks to its plans. Investors and analysts want to know where the bank's planned growth comes from, especially given the gutting of its investment bank, Europe's continued low-interest rates and other headaches specific to Deutsche Bank, including mounting regulatory investigations into potential money laundering.

Deutsche Bank's investment ban will be dramatically shrunk and reorganized with parts of it being put up for sale. Deutsche Bank is shelving its efforts to revive trading businesses that have long struggled to remain competitive, added the Dow Jones report.

The bank said Sunday it would exit its global-equities sales-and-trading business completely but will continue offering some services, such as share underwriting, to clients.

The efforts to peddle chunks of functioning operations reflect a stark turn for the European lender that for years has had the biggest global investment-banking ambitions. EFE-EPA

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