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Last Updated: Friday, 8 February 2008, 09:34 GMT
Deutsche Bank boss dodges crisis
by Tristana Moore
BBC News, Frankfurt

Deutsche Bank chairman Josef Ackermann is optimistic
I don't expect more bad news from sub-prime positions that we have
Josef Ackermann, chairman, Deutsche Bank

Giving a news conference may be an odd way to celebrate your 60th birthday, but Josef Ackermann didn't seem to mind.

As he met reporters in Frankfurt, the chief executive of Deutsche Bank looked calm and relaxed. Dr Ackermann had plenty of reasons to celebrate.

Germany's biggest bank has emerged relatively unscathed from the US sub-prime housing crisis.

For all of 2007, Deutsche Bank earned a profit of 6.5bn euros ($9.4bn, 4.8bn), which is up 7% compared with 2006.

Earnings for the fourth quarter, however, fell by 48% compared to the same period one year ago.

Crisis, what crisis?

When I met Dr Ackermann after the news conference, he exuded confidence.

Deutsche Bank headquarters in Frankfurt
Deutsche Bank is Germany's largest bank

"If you take into account the impact on leveraged loans, we had to write down 2.2bn euros in the third quarter of 2007," he told me.

"But very little had to be added in the fourth quarter - the subprime crisis has up till now, in relative terms, had a very modest effect," he added.

Compared to the losses taken by Citigroup, Merrill Lynch and UBS, Deutsche Bank has dodged the worst of the sub-prime mortgage crash.

So no further write-downs, at least for the time being - and investors will be breathing a big sigh of relief.

"I don't expect more bad news from sub-prime positions that we have, but we do have a challenging situation in leveraged loans," the Swiss-born banker told the BBC.

"We still have commitments which last until the second quarter of 2008. If we can't place some of the leveraged loans on the market, we may have to fund them, and the question is at what price."

But it's clear that 2007 was not an easy year for Deutsche Bank.

The investment banking division, which is the motor of the group's business, posted a 57% decline in pre-tax profit to 447m euros in the final quarter, thanks to a sagging demand for debt products.

And he admitted that "conditions will remain challenging in 2008."

Dodging risk

Dr Ackermann said Deutsche Bank's risk management policies helped it to weather the wild fluctuations in financial markets.

Postbank card
Mr Ackermann may bid for Postbank, Germany's largest retail bank
Last summer the bank made a bet that the markets would not bounce back after the collapse of the subprime housing market.

Deutsche Bank said it acted swiftly, reducing its positions in asset-backed securities and collateralised debt obligations.

"We had strong risk management in place. That's one of the reasons why we did better than our peers, but things have become more volatile," Josef Ackermann said.

Following the losses at Societe Generale, Deutsche Bank has launched a review of all its control systems.

Auditors are due to report on their findings in the next few weeks.

"The worst thing in any management position is to be complacent and say that can never happen to us. We are all in a challenging environment and banking is so complex that no-one can say 'never in my bank'," he said.

Lessons

Dr Ackermann said lessons should be learned from the near-collapse of two other German banks hit by the US sub-prime debacle.

"In the case of one bank they thought the special purpose vehicle with triple A assets and commercial paper funding was a very good way of making money," the chief executive of Deutsche Bank said.

"They forgot that they had an off-balance sheet liability which went several times beyond their capital basis, and I think this was a mistake."

"In the case of the Landesbank, it was more challenging because they have no real clients. They have no business model and in order to generate revenues, they had to some extent to take on more risk," he said.

And why did German banks make such risky investments?

"There were cheap deposits. It was difficult to generate revenue, you were very eager to get triple A, or double A assets with more yields than just money market yields, that's why they engaged in these transactions," Josef Ackermann explained.

"Too greedy also, maybe with the good intention of producing money for their owners, but I would not be so critical."

Future acquisitions

Dr Ackermann is relatively optimistic, saying that he did not think the US economy would fall into recession after the dramatic intervention by the Federal Reserve in cutting interest rates, and the swift action of the US Congress in passing a stimulus package.

And he said that Germany would still grow by 1.5% this year, while emerging market countries were still buoyant.

Stressing the resilience of Deutsche Bank, Dr Ackermann said it would be interested in future acquisitions, possibly buying the German retail bank, Postbank.

That is the largest retail bank in Germany, and there is likely to be a fierce battle with rivals such as Commerzbank for the prize.

As he headed off to meet investors, Josef Ackermann was still looking to the future..

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