UBS $100 Billion Wager Prompted $24 Billion Loss in Nine Months

Bloomberg – The annual shareholders meeting of UBS AG used to be a time for Chairman Marcel Ospel to gloat over his accomplishments. Shareholders would praise Ospel for turning a slow-growing, insular Swiss bank into a global financial powerhouse, with a stock price that rose 115 percent from January 1999 to January 2007. Just last year, Ospel bragged to shareholders about how the bank’s record profit was the result of its “smart expansion strategy.”

At UBS’s most recent annual meeting in April, shareholders cheered Ospel again. This time, though, it was when he announced his resignation. Ospel, 58, wearing a navy blue suit and bright yellow tie, didn’t flinch. Glasses resting on the end of his nose, he made a lengthy speech comparing himself to the captain of a ship emerging from a storm.

Shareholders responded that it was the chairman himself who had steered the bank into choppy waters. “Ospel is responsible for this malaise,” Gerhard Meier, a shareholder for 30 years, told investors at the meeting. In the nine months ended on March 31, UBS lost 25.4 billion Swiss francs ($24.3 billion), more than any other bank caught in the worldwide credit crunch.

Shareholders say Ospel and his fellow managers took a profitable Swiss bank and wrecked it on the shoals of structured finance and subprime mortgages.

“He built up enormous risks, which were damaging the whole organization,” says Herbert Braendli, president of Profond, a Swiss pension fund that has been selling down its holding of about 2.3 million UBS shares because it’s unhappy with the bank’s management. “He intentionally pushed it with his expansion goals.”

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