The Bank of England will not object to UBS taking over fellow Swiss lender Credit Suisse as soon as this weekend, according to reports, amid a frantic race to stave off a crisis with echoes of the 2008 global banking crash.
UBS has been in talks about a takeover of all or part of its compatriot, after a $54bn loan to Credit Suisse from the Swiss central bank failed to halt the precipitous slide in its share price.
Coupled with last week’s collapse of Silicon Valley Bank, whose UK arm had to be taken over by HSBC for the nominal sum of £1, the crisis engulfing Credit Suisse has fuelled anxiety about contagion in the international banking system.
UBS could pay up to $1bn in a deal that would require the Swiss government to change the law to bypass a shareholder vote, according to a report in the Financial Times.
With UBS, Credit Suisse and the government said to be keen to announce a takeover as soon as Sunday afternoon, the Bank of England has reportedly signalled its blessing for such a deal.
The Bank of England declined to comment on its position, which was first reported by Sky News.
Credit Suisse, which employs 5,000 people in the UK, is categorised by the global Financial Stability Board as one of just 30 “systemically important” lenders in the global banking system.
But its stock market value has crumbled to just $8.6bn (£7bn), down 86% since February 2021, as it struggles to recover from a prolonged series of scandals, compliance problems and bad financial bets.
In 2014, the bank pleaded guilty to allowing US clients to evade their taxes, leading to a $2.6bn fine from the US government and New York financial regulators.
In 2020, chief executive Tidjane Thiam resigned after two corporate espionage scandals involving senior employees, while the bank also lost $5.5bn on the collapse of US hedge fund Archegos Capital a year later.
The storm of negative publicity worsened last year after the Guardian’s revelations, based on a leak, that fraudsters, criminals and corrupt politicians had stored £80bn with the Zürich-based lender.
Customers began withdrawing billions of pounds from the bank last year in response to rumours about its financial health, leading to the bank’s worst full-year loss since the 2008 banking crisis.
Coupled with the failure of Silicon Valley Bank earlier this month, Credit Suisse’s travails have stoked fears that the international banking system could once again fall prey to contagion, with ramifications for the wider global economy.
Economist Nouriel Roubini, known as Dr Doom after being credited with predicting the 2008 financial crisis, said that any potential failure by Credit Suisse could prove to be a “Lehman moment”, a reference to the collapse of Lehman Brothers in September 2008, widely seen as the proximate cause of the crash.
Talks in Switzerland reportedly involve the government and regulators, with one option on the table involving a state-backed guarantee to protect UBS from the effect of losses on Credit Suisse’s balance sheet, facilitating a merger.