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Credit Suisse to tighten the reins after string of scandals

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November 3, 2021

By Oliver Hirt, Pamela Barbaglia and John O’Donnell

ZURICH/FRANKFURT (Reuters) – Credit Suisse will unveil a new centralised structure on Thursday in an attempt to bring its far-flung divisions to heel and draw a line under a string of scandals that have cost the Swiss bank billions of dollars, two sources said.

Over the past year, Credit Suisse has been fined for arranging a fraudulent loan to Mozambique, tarnished by its involvement with defunct financier Greensill, racked up $5.5 billion in losses when U.S. family office Archegos collapsed, and been rebuked by regulators for spying on executives.

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Credit Suisse drafted in seasoned banker Antonio Horta-Osorio as chairman in April to stop the rot and he will lay out his charter to reform Switzerland’s second-biggest bank on Thursday when it presents third-quarter results.

One key change is expected to be the creation of a single wealth management division that caters to a global elite, centralising oversight at the bank’s headquarters in Zurich, two people familiar with the matter told Reuters.

Under the current structure put in place six years ago, wealth management straddles three divisions: a Swiss business, an Asia-Pacific arm catering mainly to rich Chinese and an international arm based out of Switzerland.

Merging the wealth division would make Credit Suisse simpler and potentially pave the way for cost cuts.

It would also rein in local bankers who have enjoyed much autonomy, making them more answerable to senior managers who have often been blindsided by the risks that triggered past scandals, the sources said.

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One of the people told Reuters that managers at the bank’s headquarters had become very risk averse and they did not want to give leeway to local bankers, regardless of how much profit they were making.

A spokesman for Credit Suisse declined to comment.

SHARES SUFFER

Credit Suisse’s financial humiliation stands in stark contrast to its cross-town rival UBS.

In the wake of massive losses and a bailout during the financial crisis, UBS successfully pivoted away from investment banking to wealth management and is now the world’s largest wealth manager with $3.2 trillion in invested assets.

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Its shares have climbed 57% in the past 10 years while Credit Suisse has slumped 53% over the same period.

Shareholders have deserted Credit Suisse this year following the slew of bad headlines. Its shares are down 12% while UBS is up 36% while Wall Street rivals are riding high on the back of a boom in equity trading and M&A.

Andreas Venditti, an analyst at Swiss private bank Vontobel, said it would take more than “minor changes and a new divisional set-up” at Credit Suisse to reverse the trend.

The expected revamp at Credit Suisse has also encouraged some high-profile dealmakers to approach the bank’s senior management to suggest it merges with a rival, another person with knowledge of the matter said.

Those ideas have been rejected so far, however, the person said.

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Nonetheless, the prospect of a challenge by investors demanding the break-up of the bank, or that its shrinking market value makes it a target for a hostile foreign takeover, have long troubled managers, sources told Reuters earlier this year.

‘WARNING SIGNALS’

With a market value of $28 billion, Credit Suisse is worth less than half of UBS and a fraction of Wall Street giants such as JPMorgan weighing in at half a trillion dollars.

But an approach from the United States would not go down well in Switzerland. Relations between Swiss banks and Washington were damaged when the United States pressured them into giving up their strict secrecy code more than a decade ago.

A combination of Credit Suisse and UBS, which has been touted as an alternative alliance, would face its own problems. For one, it would dominate the Swiss market.

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Another source said that while Credit Suisse had examined a sale or spin-off of its asset management business, that had been shelved. The person said, however, that once further efforts were made to cut costs and boost growth, a sale, or listing of the business on the market, could be back on the cards.

The bank’s drive to centralise its operations is drawing on lessons from some of its recent failures, including Archegos.

Earlier this year, Credit Suisse published a report blaming a focus on maximizing short-term profits and enabling “voracious risk-taking” by Archegos for failing to steer the bank away from catastrophe.

Despite long-running discussions about Archegos – by far the bank’s largest hedge fund client – Credit Suisse’s top management were apparently unaware of the risks it was taking.

The bank’s chief risk officer and the head of its investment bank recall hearing about it first only on the eve of the fund’s collapse.

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“There were numerous warning signals,” the report said. “Yet the business … failed to heed these signs.”

($1 = 0.9127 Swiss francs)

(Additional reporting by Anshuman Daga in Singapore; Writing By John O’Donnell; Editing by David Clarke)

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Walmart veteran Biggs to step down as CFO next year

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November 29, 2021

By Uday Sampath Kumar

(Reuters) -Walmart Inc said on Monday longtime executive Brett Biggs will step down from his role as chief financial officer of the world’s largest retailer next year.

Biggs, the finance chief since 2015, helped oversee a period of rapid change at Walmart as the brick-and-mortar retailer launched and expanded a number of initiatives to help fend off competition from Amazon.com Inc.

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Walmart made its biggest overseas investment in 2018 with a $16 billion deal to buy a majority stake in Indian online marketplace Flipkart, and beefed up its U.S. e-commerce business through the purchase of apparel retailers Modcloth and Bonobos.

Monday’s announcement came as a surprise to some analysts who had viewed Biggs as next in line for Walmart’s top job.

“Bret Biggs was a candidate to ultimately succeed Doug McMillon as CEO, given his long tenure at the company and broad experience across business units and functions outside of finance,” said Jason Benowitz, senior portfolio manager at Roosevelt Investment Group.

“However, we expect McMillon to serve many more years at the helm,” Benowitz added.

Walmart’s shares were down 1% in late morning trade.

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Biggs had held several finance positions, including CFO of the company’s international division and U.S. business, since joining the company in 2000.

Biggs will remain in the role until a successor is named next year, Walmart said, adding he will continue to represent the company as a board member of its fintech startup until January 2023.

The startup, a joint venture with investment firm Ribbit Capital, aims to develop financial products for Walmart’s employees and customers.

Walmart said it was considering internal and external candidates to replace Biggs, as the company deals with surging labor and supply chain costs that have eaten into its profit margins.

(Reporting by Uday Sampath in Bengaluru; Editing by Shinjini Ganguli, Shounak Dasgupta and Sriraj Kalluvila)

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Cyberpunk maker CD Projekt misses quarterly profit forecast

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November 29, 2021

(Reuters) – CD Projekt, the Polish video game maker behind “Cyberpunk 2077”, missed expectations on Monday with its third-quarter net profit, weighed down by higher costs.

The company’s flagship game has helped to boost sales and earnings this year but its third-quarter net profit of 16.3 million zlotys ($3.92 million) was down 78% from the previous quarter, missing analyst expectations for a 51% drop to 36 million zlotys.

(Reporting by Anna Pruchnicka; Editing by David Goodman)

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Cyber Monday spending expected to slow as shoppers see fewer deals

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November 29, 2021

By Uday Sampath Kumar

(Reuters) -U.S. retailers are estimated to generate online sales of up to $11.3 billion on Cyber Monday, a decline in growth from a year earlier as fewer discounts and limited choices due to global supply chain disruptions deter shoppers.

Retailers had also spread out promotional deals across more weeks this year to protect profit margins from surging supply chain costs and to better manage inventories amid widespread product shortages ahead of the Christmas shopping season.

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Those attempts have pinched sales on what are traditionally some of the biggest shopping days of the year, with Adobe Analytics data over the weekend showing spending online during Black Friday fell for the first time ever.

“Online sales on big shopping days like Thanksgiving and Black Friday are decreasing for the first time in history, and it is beginning to smooth out the shape of the overall season,” said Taylor Schreiner, director, Adobe Digital Insights.

U.S. spending on Cyber Monday, which gained popularity in the mid-2000s, is expected to be between $10.2 billion and $11.3 billion, according to estimates from Adobe. 

That translates to roughly flat growth at the midpoint compared to last year’s $10.8 billion, which was a near 15% jump from 2019.

Excitement on social media around Cyber Monday is also ebbing.

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“Cyber Monday continues to be extremely relevant, particularly in the digital world, but the buzz has been more muted than we’ve seen in recent history,” said Rob Garf, general manager of retail at Salesforce.

Discount rates in the United States in the week leading up to Cyber Monday were on average 8% lower than they were last year, according to Salesforce.

The holiday season kicks off just as the new Omicron coronavirus variant has triggered uncertainty over the economic reopening, but experts say it is too early to predict the impact on consumer spending.

(Reporting by Uday Sampath in Bengaluru; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila)

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