UBS sees strong net new money, CEO remains cautious

Sergio Ermotti Interview Pic

Swiss bank UBS reported earnings in line with forecasts on Tuesday, as its wealth management business attracted strong inflows, but said it saw "abnormally low" transaction volumes in the first quarter as clients became more risk averse.

CEO Sergio Ermotti told CNBC he expected the environment to remain challenging.

"We had really, a new level of client risk aversion in the first quarter. We observed across the board and particularly it was reflected in transaction volumes and activity, where we saw the lowest level we could observe for many, many years and therefore clearly our profitability has suffered," Ermotti said on Tuesday.

First-quarter adjusted profit before tax came in at 1.4 billion Swiss francs ($1.47 billion), the bank reported on Tuesday.

UBS's wealth management businesses attracted net new money of 29 billion Swiss francs between January and March, which was a quarterly record since 2008.

Plus, its personal banking division saw net new business volume growth of almost 5 percent and attracted a record level of net new domestic clients for a first quarter.

However, Ermotti told CNBC there were several factors pushing investors to keep money on the sidelines.

"There is also an accumulation of geopolitical events making people very concerned, being on the terrorism front, or being also the upcoming elections in one country or the Brexit vote in the U.K.," he said.

These challenges were unlikely to be resolved in the foreseeable future, the bank warned. It also flagged other headwinds, including low interest rates, the strength of the Swiss franc — particularly against the euro — and proposed changes to the Swiss and international regulatory frameworks for banks that will result in higher capital requirements and costs. UBS added however that it was well positioned to meet upcoming requirements for Swiss "systemically important" banks.

The bank confirmed it would pay an ordinary dividend of 0.60 Swiss francs per share, as well as a special dividend of 0.25 per share, for 2015. Its AGM will take place on May 10.

UBS is on track to make net cost reduction of 2.1 billion Swiss francs by the end of 2017.

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