By Gernot Heller and Andreas Rinke
BERLIN (Reuters) - Deutsche Bank shares were indicated down 6.2 percent ahead of the opening of the Frankfurt market on Friday, after Germany's largest lender admitted it had an image problem with investors as fresh concerns over its stability emerged.
The lurch followed a Bloomberg report on Thursday that a number of hedge funds that clear derivatives trades with Deutsche had withdrawn some excess cash and adjusted positions, a sign that counterparties are wary of doing business with it.
One large hedge fund in Asia had pulled out its collateral from Deutsche amounting to $50 million in the last two days, while another fund which had a "smallish amount" with the bank was monitoring the situation closely and had not pulled out yet, people familiar with the matter told Reuters on Friday.
Another person with knowledge of the development said it was common to see fluctuations in balances among hedge fund clients, and these actions represented a small portion of the bank's more than 800 clients in the hedge fund business.
In a statement on Friday, Deutsche reiterated its trading clients remained largely supportive.
"We are confident the vast majority of them have a full understanding of our stable financial position, the current macroeconomic environment, the litigation process in the U.S. and the progress we are making with our strategy," it said.
A separate Asian hedge fund source said "sophisticated investors" would have already pulled out excess cash or unwound positions held at Deutsche, and, therefore, there would not be a huge wave of these withdrawals.
"We haven't heard any talk that someone stopped trading with that bank in the interbank market. It's just some hedge funds (that have stopped trading with Deutsche)," a trader at a Japanese bank said.
"Basically we do have collaterals for most trades and they are reviewed daily. So the situation is a bit different from before the Lehman crisis. Also, the amount of the fine is not set yet."
Barry Bausano, chairman of Deutsche's hedge fund business, told CNBC that its prime brokerage division, which services hedge funds, was "still very profitable" but said there was "no question we have a perception issue."
Fabrizio Campelli, head of the Deutsche wealth management business, said the bank was seeking to reassure customers and had not seen "any noticeable outflow of client funds."
"Of course some of our customers are asking what is up with Deutsche Bank at the moment. We are telling them that we are doing better than it might seem from outside," he told Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung daily.
The immediate cause of Deutsche's crisis is a fine, disputed by Deutsche, of up to $14 billion by the U.S. Department of Justice over its sale of mortgage-backed securities.
Profits at Germany's lenders have been squeezed by the European Central Bank's money-printing policy. They have been seeking to boost revenue by passing on costs to corporate customers and increasing fees for retail depositors.
Deutsche's shares were seen down 6.2 percent in Frankfurt before market open on Friday, after the bank's U.S.-listed shares fell more than 9 percent in New York on Thursday after touching a record low in Europe this week.
Berlin has denied planning any repeat of the taxpayer-funded bailouts that Germany and other Western states staged during the global financial crisis.
This followed a newspaper report earlier in the week that the government had made provisional plans to rescue Deutsche.
Politicians are reluctant to back a group disliked by many Germans because of its pursuit of investment banking abroad that resulted in billions of euros of penalties for wrongdoing.
Eckhardt Rehberg, parliamentary budget spokesman for the ruling conservatives, signaled he would oppose any support.
"At the present time I would rule out any capital help. That would not be the right way to go," he told Reuters, echoing similar comments by Hans Michelbach, who heads the conservatives in the parliamentary finance committee.
But Jeffrey Gundlach, chief executive of DoubleLine Capital, said investors betting that Berlin would not rescue Deutsche could find themselves nursing big losses.
"The market is going to push down Deutsche Bank until there is some recognition of support. They will get assistance, if need be," said Gundlach, who oversees more than $100 billion at Los Angeles-based DoubleLine.
Chancellor Angela Merkel's popularity has declined because of her open-door policy for migrants, and if Deutsche Bank were to require state help, her standing as the leader who successfully steered Germany through the financial crisis could also be called into question.
Deutsche got through the global crisis without state aid, but Commerzbank, Germany's second-biggest lender, needed an 18.2 billion euro bailout in 2008 and the state still holds a 15 percent stake.
NO LEHMAN REPLAY
The problems of Deutsche, once Germany's flagship on Wall Street, are awkward for Berlin, which has berated many euro zone peers for economic mismanagement and pushed for countries such as Ireland and Greece to cope with their banking problems alone.
Austrian finance minister Hans Joerg Schelling also sought to play down fears over Deutsche, saying the case could not be compared with Lehman Brothers, the U.S. investment bank whose collapse in 2008 sent shock waves around the world.
"We have all the measures in place at a European level to stabilize financial markets," he told Reuters.
Like many of its peers, Deutsche has faced a series of lawsuits that often trace back to the boom years before the crash. Its litigation bill since 2012 has already hit more than 12 billion euros ($13.5 billion).
In July the bank barely scraped through European stress tests - designed to gauge its ability to withstand a crisis - and has warned it may need deeper cost cuts to turn itself around.
(Story refiles to correct name to Campelli in 11th paragraph.)
(Additional reporting by Madeline Chambers and Michael Nienaber in Berlin, Marc Jones and Karin Strohecker in London, Jennifer Ablan in New York, Saikat Chatterjee in Hong Kong, Nachum Kaplan in Singapore, Leika Kihara in Tokyo and Sumeet Chatterjee in Hong Kong; Writing by John O'Donnell; Editing by Dan Grebler and Stephen Coates)