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UBS weathers coronavirus ramp-up with low losses: CFO

By Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi

ZURICH (Reuters) – Swiss bank UBS <UBSG.S> has seen relatively low losses in its lending portfolio and feels comfortable with its liquidity despite market drops amidst the coronavirus pandemic, Chief Financial Officer Kirt Gardner said on Wednesday.

“We have a conservative risk profile, a high-quality credit portfolio and relatively limited exposure to highly impacted industries like oil and gas or air transportation, at $1.4 billion and $1.9 billion respectively,” Gardner said at the Morgan Stanley European Financials Conference.

“While we have seen a significant increase in margin calls, we’ve experienced very few losses to date across our Lombard portfolio,” he said at the virtual conference, which was webcast.

Some of Europe’s biggest banks have warned the coronavirus will hit already under-pressure earnings as a lockdown across many parts of continental Europe slows economic activity, eats into fee income and puts corporate borrowers at risk.

The CFO of Switzerland’s biggest bank said that while the impact of the pandemic would be “transformative”, UBS thus far had seen little to no service disruptions.

“The full implications of this for our industry and the global economy are very hard to assess, but they will be profound. 2020 will be a transformative year that we will all remember for a very long time,” he said.

“UBS is strong, resilient, with well-diversified sources of revenues, and we manage risk prudently.”

The bank, which is the world’s largest wealth manager, is on track or ahead of schedule on its strategic goals for the year, Gartner said, although he added that the situation related to the pandemic was developing.

Its goals relate to reorganizing its flagship wealth management business and its investment bank, which saw profits nearly halve last year but which Gardner said had had a resilient start to the year despite the crisis.

The bank remains committed to maintaining flat costs for the year with a planned $1 billion in cost savings, and expects to make about $1 billion of investments which it had built into its plans, he said.

UBS and peers have been involved in discussions with the Swiss National Bank (SNB), he said, and he expects further support measures for the financial sector to be announced shortly.

“I would expect by the end of the week or over the weekend we’ll see some specific actions that will be announced by the monetary authorities, by the SNB in Switzerland, that will provide some aid and some support that we welcome,” he said.

UBS shares were up 1.4% by 1018 GMT, while the European bank sector index <.SX7P> was down 3.4%.

(Reporting by Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi and Oliver Hirt; Editing by Michael Shields and Jan Harvey)