UBS is powering through the pandemic

Posted October 20, 2020 7:21 a.m. EDT

— UBS is returning billions of dollars to shareholders after reporting a huge profit surge even as the pandemic continues to ravage the global economy.

The world's largest wealth manager said in a statement Tuesday that third-quarter net profit nearly doubled to $2.1 billion compared to the same period last year. The strong result was driven by a boost to trading income in its investment banking division amid choppy markets and the sale of a majority stake in its fund distribution platform, Fondcenter.

The bank also grew revenue in its core wealth management division, which reported record profits in Asia and the United States. The stock was up nearly 3% in Zurich at midday on Tuesday.

CEO Sergio Ermotti said the performance demonstrated the bank's ability to "focus on clients" in the current challenging environment. In a video posted to the company's website, he said that the pandemic has increased the number of customers interacting with the bank digitally, and that 20% to 30% of its workforce could regularly work from home in the future.

UBS is setting aside $2.5 billion to return to shareholders next year in the form of a dividend and share buybacks. It also plans to pay the second installment of its 2019 dividend next month, after regulators asked European banks to delay shareholder payouts heading into the pandemic in case of large loan losses.

A second wave of coronavirus cases now threatens to derail Europe's fragile recovery in the final quarter of the year. That could increase pressure on lenders, which have already set aside billions of dollars to cover bad debts as they brace for one of the worst global recessions on record.

UBS acknowledged that recent increases in coronavirus cases in Europe "create renewed uncertainty" and make "reliable predictions difficult."

But the bank said that the majority of its credit exposures are of "high quality" and it expects credit losses in the fourth quarter to remain "markedly lower" than in the first half of the year.

UBS recorded credit losses of $89 million in the third quarter, a significant reduction on the $272 million recorded between April and June. Investment banking revenues increased 42% on the third quarter last year, driving a 268% surge in profit before tax to $632 million.

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