Deutsche Bank Abandons Wall Street Ambition to Focus on Europe

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By Steven Arons

Deutsche Bank AG is embarking on what may be the most-sweeping overhaul ever of its struggling investment bank and said it would focus more on European clients, walking away from ambitions to be a top global securities firm.

Germany’s largest lender will scale back U.S. rates sales and trading, reduce the corporate finance business in the U.S. and Asia, and review its global equities business with a view toward cutting it back, the bank said in a statement Thursday. The measures will lead to a “significant reduction” in the workforce this year, Deutsche Bank said.

The decision caps a fresh review of the investment bank, whose future had been a key factor in the tumultuous management shakeup that saw Christian Sewing take over as chief executive officer this month. A Deutsche Bank veteran who started as an apprentice, Sewing is accelerating a push to refocus the lender on its European home market and reverse a two-decade effort to compete head-to-head with the large Wall Street firms that dominate volatile securities trading.

“We have to act decisively and to adjust our strategy,” Sewing said in the statement. “There is no time to lose as the current returns for our shareholders are not acceptable.” He didn’t provide figures.

Trading Slump

Underscoring the issues at the investment bank, trading revenue in the first quarter dropped 17 percent from a year earlier, compared with a 12 percent increase at U.S. rivals. Deutsche Bank said that the drop was less bad if adjusted for a weaker dollar and several one-off effects. Barclays Plc, its biggest European peer, beat trading expectations for a second straight quarter, with revenue from markets rising 8 percent, the bank said Thursday.

Deutsche Bank has lost 24 percent of its market value this year, one of the worst performers among European banks.

The company didn’t provide numbers showing how deep the cuts to the investment bank will be. The lender had started to retreat from some businesses under Cryan, who said in 2015 that he would cut 10 percent of jobs, close operations in 10 countries and reduce the number of investment bank clients by about half.

The lender said on Thursday that it wants to focus its corporate finance business on industries that align with its European clients or areas where it has a leadership position. In U.S. rates sales and trading, it plans to shrink the balance sheet, leverage exposure and repo financing. In global equities, it plans to reduce leverage exposure to prime finance, focusing on the deepest relationships.

Wall Street Ambitions

Thursday’s announcement marks a retreat from decades during which Germany’s largest bank sought to take on the largest Wall Street banks. It joined the ranks of global securities firms with the 1989 purchase of British merchant bank Morgan Grenfell and a decade later purchased Bankers Trust, a New York derivatives house. That deal was a major step in the company’s transformation because it expanded access to the world’s biggest capital markets.

Paul Achleitner, now Deutsche Bank’s supervisory board chairman, advised it on the purchase while at Goldman Sachs Group Inc.

Yet the aggressive expansion eventually led to a spate of legal scandals that took Cryan a good part of his three-year tenure to clean up. Deutsche Bank has spent more than $17 billion paying fines and settling litigation since the start of 2008, according to company filings and other disclosures compiled by Bloomberg.

For the past months, Deutsche Bank had been reviewing the securities unit again to weed out unprofitable parts where it can no longer compete with its bigger U.S. rivals. With the review still ongoing, Achleitner was secretly seeking replacements for Cryan while the CEO fought to keep his job. His ouster this month also claimed another top executive, Marcus Schenck, the former co-head of the investment bank who had been lobbying for a strong investment bank.

While shrinking the securities unit will make it harder for Sewing to return Deutsche Bank to growth, it could help him reach a target of 23 billion euros ($28 billion) in adjusted costs this year. Sewing has called the target “non-negotiable” in a memo to staff sent earlier in April.

Deutsche Bank said today that it plans to focus its consumer bank on growing markets like Italy and Spain while in wealth management, the bank will look to grow in Germany and in international markets, Deutsche Bank said.

Other highlights from Deutsche Bank’s first-quarter earnings:

  • 1Q net revenue EU6.98 billion, down 5%; analyst estimate EU7.27 billion
  • 1Q sales and trading revenue EU2.45 billion, down 17%
  • 1Q net income attributable to shareholders EU120 million

 

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