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UBS AG in a fix
December 18, 2012
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ZURICH: UBS AG will pay around $1.5 billion to settle charges that a group of traders at its Japanese unit rigged Libor interest rates, a source familiar with the matter said on Monday as the Swiss bank prepares for a deal with regulators.

The fine, to be imposed by the United States and Britain, would be the latest blow to UBS after a $2.3-billion rogue trading loss in London last year, a $780-million fine after a US tax investigation in 2009 and its near collapse in 2008 under the weight of losses on US sub-prime mortgage lending.

UBS will admit that roughly 36 of its traders around the globe manipulated yen Libor between 2005 and 2010, according to the source, with a final deal not expected before on Wednesday.

The source said settlement talks are now centring on a fine in the region of $1.5 billion -somewhat higher than source were predicting last week and three times the $450 million levied on British bank Barclays Plc in June for similar manipulation of benchmark interest rates.

The fine against UBS, whose spokesman declined comment, would be the second-largest ever levied against a bank for wrongdoing, after Britain’s HSBC last week agreed to pay $1.92 billion to settle a probe in the United States into laundering money for drug cartels.

The stiff penalty would, however, have only a limited financial impact on UBS. It earned 4.233 billion Swiss francs ($4.59 billion) in net profit last year and the bank has spent much of this year and last bolstering its capital.

UBS shares, which hit their highest level in 18 months last week at 15.29 francs, were last down 0.8 per cent at 14.92 francs, in line with a drop in the wider European bank index.

Paying $1.5 billion to settle the Libor probe would shave 50 basis points off UBS’s capital ratios, Kepler Capital Markets analyst Dirk Becker estimated: “Even after the fine, UBS would still be better capitalised than other banks.”

UBS is also benefiting from its decision in October to withdraw from riskier areas of fixed income activities which soak up large amounts of capital.

In doing so, UBS is slashing risky assets more aggressively than rivals such as Credit Suisse and Germany’s Deutsche Bank. That in turn bolsters capital ratios.

UBS’s common equity Tier 1 ratio stood at 9.3 per cent at the end of the third quarter, when factoring in global Basel III standards which take full effect in 2019, meaning it is well on its way to fulfilling those as well as stricter Swiss rules.

That compares to the 8.5 per cent pro forma capital that Credit Suisse estimates it will hit by year-end, or Deutsche’s 7.2 per cent estimate.

The potential for political fallout against UBS is tougher to judge, however.

While Barclays’ settlement touched off a firestorm in Britain that forced its chairman and chief executive to quit, previous scandals at UBS have already culled the ranks of top bosses, ash has the decision to wind down parts of the investment bank that have tarnished the bank’s name.

Swiss commentators suggested the Libor affair would stiffen the resolve of UBS’s top management -all installed after the period under investigation -to focus on the core business of wealth management as they trim risky trading activities.

However, the settlement could add to global public and political anger about standards and culture across the industry.

The settlement will be with US, British and Swiss regulators, although the last has no power to fine the bank. Japanese regulators are also involved, some sources said, although it was not clear if they would be formally involved in the penalties.

 UBS will admit to criminal wrongdoing by its Japanese arm, where one of its traders manipulated yen Libor and euro yen contracts, sources familiar with the matter have told Reuters.

Admitting to criminal wrongdoing can be fatal for a bank, as it can lose its licence. But by admitting to wrongdoing only at its Japanese subsidiary, where UBS employs 1,000 staff, it effectively ring-fences the damage, sparing its bigger units.

Individuals are also being targeted. The UBS investigation centres on former UBS trader Thomas Hayes, but also includes other UBS bankers, the sources said.

Reuters

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