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Exclusive: BlackRock, Mustier’s blank-check firm eye Credit Suisse fund management arm – sources

FILE PHOTO: A sign for BlackRock Inc hangs above their building in New York

ZURICH (Reuters) – BlackRock and Jean-Pierre Mustier’s blank-check firm are among investors expressing interest in Credit Suisse’s asset management arm, three sources told Reuters, as the Swiss lender explores options for the unit after a run of costly scandals.

U.S. investment firm State Street Corp is also eyeing a rival bid for all or part of the Swiss bank’s fund management business, while European asset managers including Germany’s DWS are waiting in the wings, the sources said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Former UniCredit boss Mustier’s blank-check firm Pegasus Europe, which focuses on financial services investments, is due to list in Amsterdam between the end of April and early May, two sources said.

A spokeswoman for Credit Suisse said the bank had no plans to sell all or any parts of its asset management business. BlackRock, State Street, DWS and Pegasus Europe all declined to comment.

Switzerland’s second biggest bank has been reeling from its exposure to the collapses of Greensill Capital and Archegos Capital Management, with a 4.4 billion Swiss franc ($4.75 billion) charge hitting its balance sheet after Archegos failed to meet margin commitments.

The scale of the charge – close to three times the investment bank’s profit last year – and a 25% drop in its shares since the end of February mean Credit Suisse boss Thomas Gottstein needs to take radical action.

The sources said Credit Suisse is in the early stages of a strategic review of its asset management arm and has yet to entertain in-depth discussions with interested parties.

The bank will need to wait for former Lloyds boss Antonio Horta-Osorio to take over as chairman in May before any decision on whether to sell or spin off the unit can be taken, the sources said, cautioning no deal was certain.

Credit Suisse’s latest run of problems started when its asset management arm was forced to suspend $10 billion of supply chain funds that invested in bonds issued by Greensill Capital after the UK firm lost insurance coverage for its loans.

“They have started talks with some of the parties, but not due diligence, no data room yet. Some of the potential buyers want the entire business, others just parts,” one of the sources said, referring to the bank’s asset management unit.

“Credit Suisse is still in crisis mode and they have not decided how to proceed yet.”

OVERHAUL

Credit Suisse in March announced an overhaul of the asset management unit amid the fallout from the Greensill debacle, bringing in former UBS executive Ulrich Koerner to lead the unit and separating it from international wealth management.

It said at the time the creation of a separate asset management division would serve to emphasize its strategic importance for the bank.

Gottstein also raised the prospect of parting ways with the business in a Bloomberg Television interview in March, saying the idea of separating the unit was “potentially part of the plan”, and that “having a holding company around that could be something we are pursuing”.

The bank’s fund management business had 440 billion Swiss francs of assets under management in 2020 and a loss before tax of 39 million Swiss francs.

The sources said the business could be valued at roughly $3.7-4 billion, with one adding Credit Suisse is likely to opt for a cash and stock deal that would allow it to extract future returns from the business.

“A potential disposal of Credit Suisse’s asset management business has been discussed in the past,” said Filippo Alloatti, a portfolio manager and credit analyst at Hermes. “They themselves saw the business as lacking scale and discussed merging it with someone else.”

Credit Suisse is expected to try to retain a stake in any deal involving the business, which could also be spun out and listed in Zurich, the sources said.

The business could also be listed through a deal with a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC), potentially involving Mustier’s vehicle or another blank-check firm, they said.

France’s richest man Bernard Arnault is sponsoring Mustier’s SPAC along with French investment firm Tikehau Capital and former banker Diego De Giorgi, who worked closely with Credit Suisse’s new investment banking boss Christian Meissner at Bank of America.

Formal discussions with Mustier or his team cannot take place until Pegasus Europe finalises its listing in Amsterdam due to regulatory restrictions.

Former Credit Suisse chief executive Tidjane Thiam is also raising about $250 million for his own SPAC firm to invest in financial services businesses in the developed and developing world.

($1 = 0.9262 Swiss francs)

(Reporting by Oliver Hirt, Pamela Barbaglia and David French, additional reporting by Abhinav Ramnarayan, Brenna Hughes-Neghaiwi and Tom Sims; Writing by Pamela Barbaglia; Editing by Jan Harvey)

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