Page last updated at 12:09 GMT, Tuesday, 1 April 2008 13:09 UK

Unhappy times for UBS investors

Imogen Foulkes
BBC Geneva correspondent

UBS logo
Investors jeered management at the last UBS shareholder meeting

The news that Switzerland's biggest bank, UBS has made a loss of $12bn in the first quarter of 2008, is causing alarm in Swiss financial circles.

The Swiss bank has now lost $37bn from the credit crunch, more than any other financial institution.

UBS said further job losses could be expected, and announced that the bank's chairman, Marcel Ospel, would be stepping down.

Mr Ospel has been widely criticised by UBS shareholders, who claim he allowed the bank to become too over-exposed to sub-prime lending.

At an emergency meeting in February, angry shareholders booed at him, when he tried to present the bank's rescue plan, accusing him of treating the bank as a 'casino.'

Public unease

So his departure was a relief for some.

"We think this is a very welcome development," said Robi Tschopp, who represents the shareholders group Actares.

"It's a symbol at least that top management are prepared to take responsibility for their actions."

Many Swiss who have been following the fortunes of UBS for the last few months, not least the long history of generous bonuses for management, will be watching to see whether Mr Ospel departs with a golden handshake.

A reader's survey in the Swiss newspaper Blick reveals deep dissatisfaction.

"As usual, it's likely to be the ordinary people who have to pick up the bill for the this," wrote one reader.

"Why is only Marcel Ospel going?" writes another, "why not the rest of them?"

Unhappy investors

That view is also shared by Mr Tschopp.

He is not happy with the announcement that Peter Kurer, who is already on the board of UBS, is to be the new chairman.

"He is a UBS insider, so this is not really a change in tactics," Mr Tschopp explained.

"We see this as an interim solution; what is really needed is someone from outside, who can come in to UBS and look at exactly what went wrong," he added.

And although shareholders did approve a rescue package involving new capital from Singapore and from the Middle East, they did so reluctantly.

There was anger and disappointment that a bank which had enjoyed a reputation of responsibility and reliability should have posted such a poor performance.

Economy worries

Now however, the anger has been replaced by serious concern.

The Swiss Department for Economic Affairs, in an unexpectedly bleak statement, said the turmoil in the world's financial markets - chief among it the crisis at UBS - would inevitably affect Switzerland's economic performance.

The department is predicting a slowdown in economic growth to just 1.5% in 2009.

One of the reasons for the concern is the widely-held belief that UBS is by no means out of the woods, and that further losses can be expected.

Later this month, UBS managers will present the new chairman, and the new request for a further $15bin in rescue money, to the bank's annual shareholders meeting.

They can expect a bumpy ride.

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