Julius Bär in talks on Merrill Lynch assets

Swiss bank Julius Bär said on Tuesday that it is in negotiations with Bank of America (BofA) to take on Merrill Lynch's global private banking arm with assets of $90 billion.

The Zurich-based bank confirmed that it was in “discussions” with BofA but that it was too soon to say whether its bid would be successful.

“Given the early stage of these discussions, the outcome is entirely open,” the bank said in a brief statement.

Reports in the financial press late last week indicated that two other Swiss banks were in the running — UBS and Credit Suisse — along with American bank Wells Fargo and Royal Bank of Canada.

BofA inherited the Merrill Lynch global private wealth management operation at the height of the subprime crisis in 2008.

It is believed to be keen to offload the unit because it does not create sufficient profits owing to its relatively modest size.

The portfolio deals principally with non-US investments in Europe, Asia and Latin America.

The successful bidder may have to pay more than $3 billion to secure the deal, according to the Financial Times.

Analysts Vontobel said that Julius Bär had cash reserves totalling 1 billion francs and would need to raise funds to finalize the deal.

Tying up the purchase would increase the size of Julius Bär’s portfolio by 50 percent from its current base of 178 billion francs, Vontobel added, making it a “positive” development.

While the Swiss bank is keen to make the deal, it must first make peace with the US financial authorities, which are investigating potential tax avoidance by its clients.

Zurich’s ZKB bank said that Julius Bär may have to pay a substantial fine to resolve the issue, but it had not made any provision to do so.

“From a strategic point of view a Swiss purchase might make more sense, owing to the better synergies (between Swiss entities),” ZKB added.

The Swiss stock market showed little reaction to the announcement, with Bär shares up 1.72 percent to 33.05 francs compared with a 0.55 percent higher Swiss Market Index at 1025 GMT.

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Julius Bär targets 1,000 job cuts after acquisition

Julius Bär, the Zurich-based private bank, is planning to slash its staff by as much 1,000 people in a bid to improve profitability.

Julius Bär targets 1,000 job cuts after acquisition
Photo: Sporst (File)

The bank announced the plan on Tuesday in the wake of its planned acquisition of Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s wealth management business outside the US and Japan.

The targeted reductions amount to between 15 and 18 percent of its workforce of around 5,700 people in more than 50 locations.

In August, when the deal was announced, Julius Bär said it expected to pay a total of about 1.47 billion francs ($1.57 billion), including integration costs, to acquire the wealth management business of the American bank.

The business involves managing more than 57 billion francs in assets from clients in Europe, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East.

Julius Bär, which describes itself as Switzerland’s leading private bank, said it expects the acquisition, which aims to tap into emerging markets, will boost earnings per share 15 percent by 2015, not including restructuring costs.

The bank said it planned "a significant reduction of former Bank of America corporate overhead and other allocations not required going forward in the Julius Bär structure."
It expects the deal to close in the first quarter next year.

About 80 percent of the total assets it is acquiring will be reported at Julius Bär by the end of 2013, the bank said.

It said it had managed to raise 250 million francs in non-core tier 1 capital in September to help finance the acquisition.
It is also planning a rights issue to help with the financing and said on Monday it expects to sell 20 million new shares to rake in around 492 million francs during the October 10th-16th operation.

The bank, specialized in wealth management, said it would present more details of the acquisition to analysts and investors in London later on Tuesday.

In its statement, Julius Bär said the planned job cuts and other cost-cutting measures were expected to lead to an implied cost-income ratio of about 70 percent and a pre-tax profit margin of around 25 basis points for the acquired business in 2015.

The Swiss bank also said it expected the deal to be at least earnings per share-neutral by 2014.

On a separate note, the company reported that the assets it currently has under management increased to a new record high of 184 billion francs, which is 14 billion francs, or eight percent higher than at the end of 2011.