Julius Baer declines to confirm Signa exposure

ZURICH (Reuters) – Julius Baer’s Chief Executive declined to confirm on Wednesday whether the private bank’s 606 million Swiss franc ($693 million) exposure it disclosed earlier this week is to toppled property giant Signa.

“I cannot comment on clients,” Philipp Rickenbacher said at the Financial Times’ Global Banking Summit.

The CEO said it was too early to say what specific lessons could be learned relating to the large exposure in its private debt business.

“Right now the focus is on maximising the value of our collateral.”

Troubled property group Signa, which owns scores of high-profile projects and department stores, declared insolvency on Wednesday.

Signa, controlled by an Austrian magnate, has borrowed heavily from banks including Julius Baer, which on Monday disclosed it had an exposure of more than 600 million Swiss francs, the largest in its private debt loan book, to a European conglomerate.

The wealth manager’s shares have dropped more than 20% since last week when it revealed it has in November already booked 70 million francs in provisions against its credit portfolio.

Rickenbacher said he saw the share price movements as having to do with uncertainty and questions about the bank’s risk appetite and risk capacity going forward, but saw no reason to change course.

“I believe Julius Baer will be able to continue its risk appetite and its risk capacity as we have on average in the last few years.”

($1 = 0.8749 Swiss francs)

(Reporting by Noele Illien; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle and Tomasz Janowski)