UBS piles up losses amid tax scrutiny

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Swiss banking giant UBS on Tuesday fell into further losses during the third quarter as clients withdraw billions.

Zurich -- Swiss banking giant UBS on Tuesday fell into further losses during the third quarter as clients responded to tax scrutiny by withdrawing billions of dollars of funds and assets from the bank.

The bank said in a statement that its net loss for the three months ending 30 September reached CHF 564 million (EUR 373 million, USD 552 million), largely due to credit charges.

The flagship of Switzerland's banking industry also failed to stop an outflow of funds.

Customers withdrew assets amounting to CHF 36.7 billion over the quarter, bringing the total outflows over the first nine months of 2009 to CHF 91.1 billion.

The outflows were particularly marked in the United States, where the bank agreed in August to disclose details of 4,450 accounts in order to avoid tax fraud charges brought by US authorities.

The bank had admitted in an earlier case to assisting tax cheats in the United States and paid USD 780 million in fines.

"In relation to US cross-border clients, we only see outflows," UBS chief financial officer John Cryan told journalists.

The bank's Wealth Management Americas unit booked CHF 9.9 billion in outflows in the third quarter, up from CHF 5.8 billion in the second quarter.

Cryan attributed the outflows to the "tighter scrutiny" from tax authorities as well as to a "reputational issue" that UBS was struggling to overcome.

"We don't see at present a very early return to positive inflows. We're still executing the exit from US cross-border business," said Cryan.

"Generally there is clearly a residual reputational issue we need to face, there is a morale issue among our client advisers, and there has been a tighter scrutiny of tax matters, that's not helping value creation. In the economy there is a lower level of wealth creation," he added.

Cryan also said that for domestic Swiss clients, outflows would not stop until the bank shows that it is profitable again.

The Zurich-based bank, one of the biggest losers in the global financial crisis, has been struggling to recover after it fell deep into loss.

While several other international banks have posted sharp profits for the quarter, UBS's latest result marked its fourth quarterly loss in a row.

Overall, the bank said it expected to "see further progress in restoring the underlying profitability of the business in future quarters, particularly in 2010."

It added that fourth quarter results of its investment bank unit, which was blamed for hurting the bank during the crisis, should reflect the "early stage of its recovery."

Analysts at Bank Wegelin said that the net new money outflows, and the signs that they would not improve, would "frighten investors away."

"The only constant in terms of net new money are bad signs," it added.

The bank's share price on the Swiss Market Index (SMI) opened down 3.86 percent at CHF 16.68.

AFP / Expatica

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