October 25, 2011 / 7:18 PM / 6 years ago

UBS brokerage gains on rivals in tough quarter

5 Min Read

<p>The logo of Swiss bank UBS is seen on a building in Zurich July 8, 2008.Arnd Wiegmann</p>

(Reuters) - UBS Wealth Management Americas said on Tuesday third-quarter earnings rose slightly in U.S. dollars, as the smallest of the four major Wall Street brokerages bested rivals on several fronts during the toughest markets since the financial crisis.

The Swiss bank said the U.S. brokerage unit earned almost $170 million in the third quarter, swinging back from a $47 million loss in the year-earlier period. Total operating income was fueled by higher interest income, offset by lower fees and commissions.

Third-quarter profit rose about $5 million or 3 percent, from the second quarter.

Revenue rose 16 percent to $1.54 billion from the year- earlier period, and was up 2 percent from the second quarter as higher income was offset by expenses, muted client trading and restructuring charges.

Clients added $4.8 billion of net new money during the quarter, compared with $3.1 billion in the second quarter and just $300 million a year earlier.

These net additions, which exclude interest and dividends, were the most since former Merrill executive Robert McCann took over as the unit's chief executive in late 2009.

The ranks of financial advisers increased by 51 to 6,913 during the quarter and were up by 117 this year, continuing a the unit's recovery after years of mass departures.

Takes Lead from Merrill

The U.S. unit also took the lead in average revenue and assets per adviser away from the industry's perennial leader, Merrill Lynch. UBS brokers averaged $895,000 of annualized revenue production during the quarter, compared with $854,000 at Merrill Lynch.

UBS brokers averaged $103 million of client assets, even as total invested assets fell 8 percent to $715 billion as markets swooned. Merrill and Morgan Stanley brokers each oversaw about $90 million in assets, on average.

"What you have is one of the more impressive turnarounds I've witnessed in all my 30 years in financial services," McCann said in a memo to employees on Tuesday.

McCann also noted pretax profit swung to $444 million in the first three quarters this year, from a $93 million loss in the same period last year, though that still falls short of his goal of 1 billion francs annual pretax profit.

Morgan Stanley, by comparison, reported year-over-year declines in revenue, brokers and assets; Merrill's revenue and broker-count rose, though client balances fell.

For UBS, U.S. unit results were eroded by the weakness of the dollar against the franc. Pretax earnings in francs fell to 139 million from 140 million in the second quarter.

The most recent results reflect 19 million francs of charges related to a cost-reduction program and 31 million francs of one time gains on investment sales.

Before Mccann

UBS's brokerage unit saw nearly a third of top advisers quit and client assets plunge by $119 billion in the year before McCann arrived. UBS suffered some of the biggest credit losses of the financial crisis and prompted a Swiss government bailout.

UBS, to be sure, is a fraction of the size of its rivals. Merrill, a unit of Bank of America Corp, has 16,722 advisers and generated $3.43 billion in third-quarter revenue.

Morgan Stanley's brokerage division has 17,291 advisers and earned $365 million pretax on $3.26 billion in revenue.

UBS in September shocked the markets with news that a trader had lost more than $2 billion on unauthorized trades, a major setback as UBS scrambles to revive an investment bank and a global wealth management business hurt by a series of scandals and missteps in recent years.

The wealth management unit, long a source of concern for UBS, may now be a model for UBS' investment banking turnaround, group Chief Financial Officer Tom Naratil told Reuters.

"As we look at the investment bank strategy going forward, there is a very important lesson in what we did in WMA," said Naratil, who had been CFO of the U.S. brokerage unit until earlier this year. (Reporting by Joseph A. Giannone in New York; additional reporting by Emma Thomasson in Zurich; editing by Chelsea Emery)

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