The bank was upbeat about “positive momentum” in trading, growth in loans and assets under management, and market share gains. However, the numbers that matter most tell a different story. Deutsche reported a bigger-than expected loss in the third quarter of 2019 and is indicating that it will struggle to deliver the main objectives in its biggest reorganization in decades.
This will complicate Sewing’s efforts to rebuild investor confidence. The lender’s shares are trading close to record lows; it is priced at just one-quarter of its book value — not a happy state of affairs for a bank.
Revenue across Deutsche’s four core businesses fell 3% to 5.6 billion euros ($6.2 billion) in the three months to September, compared to the same period last year. While the corporate division expanded by pumping out more loans, revenue declined 2% at the unit that houses consumer banking and wealth management (Deutsche’s biggest sales contributors).
Meanwhile, sales declined 5% at the investment banking businesses being kept by Deutsche. A 20% bounce in advisory income was offset by a 13% plunge in fixed income. This contrasts sharply with its Wall Street peers, which enjoyed a collective 9% increase in the buying and selling of bonds and currencies.
While some pain would have been expected as the bank exits equities and reorganizes its rates-trading division, there were market misjudgments too. Deutsche was on the wrong side of bets on Argentina, according to its finance director James von Moltke. That setback, and the spike in advisory income, are reminders of the profit swings with which the division will always have to contend.
Shrinking the bank is proving more expensive than expected too. The so-called capital release unit, which houses assets the bank is eliminating, posted a 1 billion euro pretax loss.
While the bank is sticking to its guidance for 2022 revenue and profitability, it’s abandoning a pledge to keep revenue flat at its private bank this year, citing the impact of negative interest rates. The hit on revenue will depend in part on how far Deutsche can pass on the cost of lower rates by charging customers fees for services. For many banks, this is still uncharted territory so caution on the outlook is necessary.
There are some silver linings. The bank should be on track to cut costs to 21.5 billion euros this year and a capital ratio of 13.4% is better than expected. That should quell concerns that Deutsche won’t be able to pay for the overhaul with its own money.
Although long overdue, Sewing deserves credit for coming up with a restructuring that might eventually get Deutsche back on a sustainable path of profitability. Eliminating one in five jobs and shrinking trading activities by as much as 40% was always going to be difficult.
Any misplaced overoptimism should now give way to a more realistic assessment of the challenges when the bank updates investors in December. Sewing cannot afford to lose their support.
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Elisa Martinuzzi is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering finance. She is a former managing editor for European finance at Bloomberg News.
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