Deutsche Bank Racks Up Near Historic Losses as Restructuring Deepens. But Otherwise Everything’s Fine, the CEO Assures

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Deutsche Bank CEO Christian Sewing calls them “economic headwinds,” a combination of factors—many of which are self-inflicted—conspiring to send Germany’s largest lender toward near historic levels of red ink this year.

Investors probably had a less delicate choice of words as they dumped their shares on Wednesday, slashing $1.5 billion off the company’s $16.6 billion market cap as the trading day wound to a close. The bank finished down 8.4 percent, its biggest one-day loss since early 2018.

The sell-off came after the bank released third-quarter financial results on Wednesday that failed to meet even lowered expectations from analysts. Deutsche Bank posted a net loss of €832 million ($925 million) between July and September, compared to a profit of €211 million over the same period in 2018. That total brings the bank’s losses so far this year to a staggering €3.9 billion.

It’s been a rough week for Europe’s banks. On Monday, HSBC, Europe’s largest bank, reported an earnings miss, sending shares sharply lower. Swiss banking giant Credit Suisse reported a timely profit, but investors sent shares lower on disappointing forward guidance.

For European banks, low interest rates and flattening yield curves are making it exceedingly difficult to grow the bottom line through the traditional commercial banking operations of lending and attracting new accounts. Instead, such banks are chasing fees as advisors on deals and beefing up their wealth management businesses.

Sewing said not to expect any dramatic improvements over the final three months of the year, as the bank continues to struggle against various “headwinds,” including low interest rates, volatile finance markets, an economic slowdown in Germany and elsewhere in Europe, and a massive restructuring plan to revamp operations that had forced the bank to book a one-time €3.4 billion restructuring in the previous quarter.

The problems are resulting in credit rating downgrades for the bank and upping pressure for Deutsche Bank Chairman Paul Achleitner to resign after a struggle to remake the company’s board. 

A survey of analysts’ estimated losses for the year as a whole now come in at €4.3 billion, which would mean the bank will have lost money in four of the previous five years. (Last year’s €300 million profit was the lone exception). The full-year estimates would result in the bank’s second-worst year on record, only a slight improvement on the €6.8 billion it bled in 2016.

Despite all that, Sewing repeatedly insisted on Wednesday’s call that the bank had turned the corner, and that the restructuring plan—which includes 18,000 layoffs by 2022, and a retreat to less risky business markets—was “on track, or even a little ahead of schedule.”

Sewing said that the four “core bank” activities Deutsche Bank will focus on going forward—European retail banking, asset management, corporate banking, and the bond-focused rump of the investment bank left after the restructuring plan eliminated most share trading—showed an operating profit of €353 million for the quarter, something Sewing pointed to as a promising sign of what’s to come.

It was notable that bank officials did not address the layoffs on Wednesday’s call (the job losses were the most controversial part of the €7.4 billion reorganization plan announced in July). But the company did reveal that its global workforce dipped below 90,000 in September for the first time in years.

As of October, the headcount level was around 1,500 fewer than at the end of June, before the restructuring plans were announced.

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