Finance

Credit Suisse shares are a ‘steal,’ say new Saudi backers after taking 9.9% stake

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The chairman of one of Credit Suisse’s newest and biggest shareholders called on the beleaguered bank to deliver a swift overhaul and return to a “very stable, conservative Swiss banking posture.”

Saudi National Bank, the kingdom’s largest lender and majority-owned by the Saudi government, announced Wednesday that it was investing up to $1.5 billion in Credit Suisse — representing a stake of up to 9.9%.

“We got it at the floor price. I think the bank has been battered,” Ammar Alkhudairy told CNBC’s Hadley Gamble on Sunday. “It’s trading at less than a quarter of book value, of tangible book value, which is, which is a steal. And it’s 160-year-old brand, the brand has a lot of value.” The bank is reportedly set to become the second-largest shareholder of Credit Suisse, second to Harris Associates.

The Swiss lender posted a third-quarter net loss of 4.034 billion Swiss francs ($4.09 billion) last week,  significantly worse than analyst estimates, and announced a massive strategic overhaul. Shares are down around 55% this year after several scandals, management changes and weak earnings releases.

In the anticipated strategic shift, the bank vowed to “radically restructure” its investment arm to significantly cut its exposure to risk-weighted assets, which are used to determine a bank’s capital requirements. It also aims to cut its cost base by 15%, or 2.5 billion Swiss francs, by 2025.

The SNB chairman cited Credit Suisse’s investment banking unit as the Achilles’ heel of the company, accentuated by the current climate of increased market volatility.

“The biggest overhang for Credit Suisse, over the past couple of years … has been the volatility of the performance of their investment bank,” he told CNBC.

A Credit Suisse Group AG bank branch in Basel, Switzerland, on Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2022. Thousands of job cuts, attempts to raise fresh capital and a revamp of its investment banking unit — all part of a radical company-wide overhaul by Credit Suisse.
Stefan Wermuth | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Alkhudairy added that the bank’s other three core businesses, which is the retail business in Switzerland, the private wealth management and asset management are “very stable” business streams that have delivered “predictable, sustainable returns.”

“So it’s just moving back into a very stable, conservative Swiss banking posture, which we like,” he said.

In the short to medium-term outlook, Alkhudairy said he feels that the most important step for Credit Suisse to undertake is to “get the volatile business out of the quarterly earnings,” and focus on private wealth management and augment the retail business.

“I just would urge them not to blink, not to hesitate and just execute [the overhaul]. The quicker the better,” he said.

No intention to interfere in management

The investment comes on the heels of Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman’s encouragement of Saudi Arabia’s largest firms to actively invest overseas and bolster its profile as a global investor. Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund manages about $620 billion in assets, and is integral to the crown prince’s ambitions.

However, when asked about the move by SNB to invest in the embattled Swiss bank, Alkhudairy denied that it was necessarily related to PIF, but rather an investment that was a “manifestation of the new Saudi Arabia.”

He added that Saudi National Bank does not have any board seats at Credit Suisse currently, and he doesn’t see that changing in the future.

“We will support the bank as a sizable shareholder,” said Alkhudairy. “There is no intention in any way to interfere in the management, or participate in the management.”

“Let me let me be clear, this is a financial investment, the 9.9% was very well measured, because once you get to 10%, you have all kinds of regulatory and accounting issues that that creep up, which we felt we would not want to get into. We don’t have any board seats for now, and we don’t see us taking a board seat directly,” he said.

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