Earnings

Julius Baer announces cost cuts as profitability lags

Reuters with CNBC.com
Key Points
  • For the full year, net profit under IFRS accounting standards rose to 735 million Swiss francs ($737.36 million). Analysts polled by Reuters on average had expected 772 million Swiss francs in full-year net earnings.
  • The Zurich-based bank for wealthy and affluent clients brought in 17 billion francs in net new money in 2018, a growth rate of 4.5 percent at the lower end of its 4-6 percent medium-term target range.
VIDEO3:5203:52
Julius Baer expanding personnel despite cost pressures

Private bank Julius Baer, Switzerland's third largest listed lender, posted a 4 percent rise in full-year reported net profit and announced the launch of 100 million franc cost reduction program.

For the full year, net profit under IFRS accounting standards rose to 735 million Swiss francs ($737.36 million). Analysts polled by Reuters on average had expected 772 million Swiss francs in full-year net earnings.

The Zurich-based bank for wealthy and affluent clients brought in 17 billion francs in net new money in 2018, a growth rate of 4.5 percent at the lower end of its 4-6 percent medium-term target range. CEO Bernhard Hodler told CNBC's Joumanna Bercetche Monday that its exiting network helped to draw in this new cash, as well as the bank's decision to hire new relationship managers last year.

The bank on Monday kept that target, but lowered its cost-income and pre-tax margin goals.

"The Group will lower expenses by 100 million francs by further enhancing market focus and related prioritization of resource allocation; leveraging automation and digitalization; and applying stricter performance management," Baer said in a statement.

VIDEO2:5102:51
Julius Baer beats new money expectations but questions over cost control remain

"This will by the end of 2019 lead to a net reduction in the group's headcount of 2 percent compared to the end of 2018." Julius Baer said it aimed to achieve a cost-income ratio below 68 percent by 2020, assuming no meaningful deterioration relative to average 2018 market conditions, from previously 64-68 percent.

An increase in the ratio marks reduced profitability over costs. In 2018, it missed its goal, with an adjusted ratio of 70.6 percent. The bank said it would propose a dividend of 1.50 francs per share, compared to 1.40 francs for 2017.

Speaking on the drop in gross margin at the private bank, Hodler told CNBC that the market environment in the latter part of 2018 had weighed on the company after a promising start to the year.

"Last year we had a fantastic first half and then markets became more difficult. Client activity was much lower in the second half. So the drop, with regards to the return on assets, is mainly coming from lower activity levels from clients and also performance-based fees that were certainly higher in 2017," he said, adding that 2019 looked to be starting on a more positive note.

VIDEO2:2902:29
Volatility and client activity behind earnings underperformance: Julius Baer CEO