The merger between Switzerland’s two largest lenders, the embattled Credit Suisse and UBS, could have a negative impact on the entire Western bond market, Bloomberg reported on Monday, citing analysts.
UBS agreed on Sunday to acquire its rival, which was on the brink of insolvency due to the loss of investor and customer confidence, for 3 billion Swiss francs ($3.24 billion) in stock. The deal, brokered by the Swiss authorities, came with a 9-billion-franc government guarantee for potential losses from Credit Suisse assets and 100 billion francs in liquidity assistance from Switzerland’s central bank.
However, as part of the deal, Swiss financial market regulator FINMA ordered Credit Suisse to write down to zero some 16 billion Swiss francs ($17.24 billion) of its Additional Tier 1 (AT1) bonds, with the aim of bolstering the bank’s capital and resolving its liquidity problems.
AT1 bonds are a riskier form of bank debt, which were created in the wake of the global financial crisis of 2008, and represent a type of junior debt that allows banks to transfer risks to investors instead of taxpayers in cases of financial difficulties. Investors find them attractive as they pay higher interest due to the fact that they carry more risk than regular bonds.
While bondholders will be left with nothing, Credit Suisse shareholders will receive $3.23 billion under the UBS deal, despite the fact that bonds traditionally stand above equities in the banking hierarchy. The situation has angered bondholders, Bloomberg reports, as they now fear the authorities in other countries may follow the Swiss government’s lead.
“It’s stunning and hard to understand how they can reverse the hierarchy between AT1 holders and shareholders… Wiping out AT1 holders while paying substantial amounts to shareholders goes against all the resolution principles and rules that were agreed internationally after 2008,” Jerome Legras, the head of research at Axiom Alternative Investments, an investor in Credit Suisse’s AT1 debt, has said.
“This just makes no sense… Shareholders should get zero… it’s crystal clear that AT1s are senior to stocks,” Patrik Kauffmann, a fixed-income portfolio manager at Aquila Asset Management, who also holds the bonds, told Bloomberg.
Some analysts, however, argue that the write-off of the bonds is a logical step, as this is part of the reason they were created – as a way to impose losses on creditors instead of taxpayers in case of bank failures. Overall, experts predict that either the AT1 market will soon be closed for new issuance, or the bonds will surge in price because of the extra risk displayed by the Credit Suisse rescue merger.
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