There was some good, but mostly bad news in Deutsche Bank's Q3 earnings report.
The good news is that after years of turmoil, the biggest German bank is showing signs of stabilization under new CEO Christian Sewing after a bitter boardroom battle. The bad news is that the bank missed across all key revenue metrics as Sewing scrambles with a looming problem: how to boost revenue after firing thousands of banks in a multi-year long cost-cutting campaign.
The German bank reported net income of €229 million on Wednesday, above the €160 million expected but 65% below the €649 million reported a year ago. Profit before tax also tumbled by nearly half, dropping from €933 million to €506 million.
Investors were closely watching the bank's costs: the new management team, which was appointed last April, promised to deliver further cost-cutting to revamp the balance sheet. In the third quarter of 2018, the bank said that adjusted costs dropped 1% from a year ago to 5.5 billion euros, with the aim for the full year to bring adjusted costs down to €23 billion and €22 billion in 2019. A core part of the new "restructuring" effort have been mass layoffs as the number of workers is set to come down to 93,000 by the end of 2018, and 90,000 one year later.
But while costs and the bottom line beat were a modest positive surprise, the same could not be said for the bank's revenue which disappointed across the board: total revenue of €6.17BN missed expectations of €6.34BN and guided lower, now predicting a slight decline for full year revenue after earlier guiding for a flat result; trading income in the key FICC division tumbled 15% from a year earlier, while equities trading, a sector where Wall Street banks generally posted gains, also dropped at the same pace as these two key businesses have been hardest-hit by executives departures recently.
More Q3 revenue details:
- FICC revenue: €1.32BN vs €1.545BN in Q3 2017, and missing expectations of €1.365BN
- Equities trading revenue: €466BN vs €548BN in Q3 2017, and missing expectations of Exp. €473BN
- Total sales and trading revenue: €1.79BN, missing expectations of €1.84BN
- Total revenue: €6.17BN, missing expectations of €6.34BN
In total, Deutsche reported its lowest third-quarter revenue since 2010 and now expects a slight decline for the full year, after earlier guiding for a flat result according to Bloomberg.
The silver lining is that while revenue was a disappointment, costs also shrank which should allow the bank to post its first annual profit in four years according to Sewing who added that the focus now has to be on growing the top line without compromising controls: "With profit before tax of 506 million euros, this result is another milestone on our way to becoming a sustainably profitable bank. We have our costs under control and sufficient capital to grow. We are on track to be profitable in 2018, for the first time since 2014."
Of course, being profitable by butting into the muscle is hardly what shareholders expected, and the CEO admitted as much writing in a memo to employees that while “we made headway on our cost reductions," he admitted that "we have not yet achieved a turnaround in terms of revenues."
As Bloomberg notes, for investors who have been through the bank’s previous turnaround plans, "it’s a familiar pattern." John Cryan, Sewing’s predecessor, had vowed to restore “controlled growth” last year after raising fresh funding, but failed to deliver. Sure enough, the stock was promptly punished for this latest disappointment, with Deutsche Bank shares falling 3.5%, having lost 44% of its value this year and trades near its record low.
Sellside reactions were mixed, with JPM analyst Kian Abouhossein writing that Deutsche Bank "has done an excellent job under Sewing" on cost reductions and improving the bank’s capital strength, however “we remain concerned about DB’s inability to turn around” the investment bank division."
On the other hand, Goldman analyst Jernej Omahen was more critical, writing that the third quarter results were “weak” from an operational perspective, noting underperformance relative to U.S. peers in investment bank revenue progression, as well as the underlying pretax profit miss. The silver lining: capital was better-then-expected, as was bottom line, due to lower burden of non-operating items.
But the one recurring theme was the lack of top-line growth: "Costs are in line with targets,” said Daniel Regli, an analyst with MainFirst who has a hold recommendation on the stock. “But there is continued weakness in investment bank revenue. That needs to be fixed.”
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Sewing had staked his restructuring effort, and Deutsche's fourth in three years, on boosting profitability by trimming costs and refocusing on fewer, core activities. Yet the continued contraction in the top line risks undermining investor confidence in the strategy and may fuel speculation that the lender needs to combine with a rival in the long run, BBG adds.
The new CEO has vowed the investment banks will remain a core business for Deutsche Bank, with at least half of the revenue coming from the unit. And yet, he’s cutting at least 7,000 jobs and retrenching in areas such as prime finance, U.S. rates and corporate finance in the U.S. and Asia. The bank cut another 700 positions in the third quarter after eliminating about 1,700 jobs in the three months through June; it said it remains on track to hit its job target of well below 90,000 by end of 2019.
The bank's steady exodus of employees has left the business stuck in what CFO James von Moltke called a "vicious circle" of declining revenue, “sticky” expenses, a lowered credit rating and rising funding costs. Additionally, the bank on Wednesday highlighted higher funding costs and geopolitical events among the headwinds for the securities unit.
Meanwhile, as the one-time financial titan continues to shrink, all management can do is try to boost morale: Garth Ritchie, head of the bank's securities unit urged employees in a memo to “focus resolutely on rebuilding revenue momentum” in the final quarter; surely a preferable alternative to being fired. Von Moltke said on a conference call that the bank wants to redeploy excess cash to return to growth, as restructuring expenses are likely to be lower than previously expected. He said rating companies would be comfortable with such use of capital.
“We need to end the year on a strong note,” Sewing wrote in his memo. “We’ll stay disciplined on costs, and we’ll turn around revenues.”