By Joshua Franklin
ZURICH (Reuters) - UBS <UBSG.S> hopes optimism surrounding new U.S. President Donald Trump's proposed policies will boost its core wealth management business, the Swiss bank said on Friday, after reporting a sharp fall in profits.
With earnings from the wealth management division under pressure, the world's biggest private bank looked forward to growing confidence among U.S. clients who are now planning riskier investments.
"The bad news is that those are plans," Chief Executive Sergio Ermotti told a news conference on Friday. "Before they translate those plans into action they want to see the outcome of the first 100 days of the new administration."
Follow-through action would be a boon for income earned from fees and transactions at UBS's North American wealth management business, and could also benefit its investment bank.
But the optimism has not reached Europe or Asia, where clients are still averse to taking on too much risk, Ermotti cautioned.
Transaction-based income at UBS Wealth Management, which does not include North America, fell to the lowest level on record in the fourth quarter.
The unit's overall operating income also fell for the seventh straight quarter.
"If clients do not want to trade there's only so much you can do," said Vontobel analyst Andreas Venditti, who rates UBS's stock a "buy".
UBS Wealth Management suffered net outflows of client assets totaling 4.1 billion Swiss francs ($4.1 billion), which UBS put down to tax amnesty programs in emerging markets and Asia Pacific.
Wealth Management Americas saw $1.3 billion in outflows but still posted a record adjusted pre-tax profit.
Ermotti said the bank could have taken in more money with a less selective approach. "Literally, we could get billions of net new money coming into the bank if we would relax the standards," he said.
Overall fourth-quarter group net profit came in at 738 million francs, well ahead of the median estimate of 339 million in a Reuters poll of 15 analysts.
Results were boosted in part by a better than expected performance in the investment bank's equities business.
UBS saw its 2016 net profit fall to 3.3 billion francs from 6.2 billion in 2015. Earnings in 2015 had been boosted by a substantial tax benefit but 2016 pre-tax operating profit was still down 24 percent.
UBS proposed an unchanged ordinary dividend of 0.60 francs, in line with market expectations.
"We see these results as mixed but remain 'underperform' as wealth management margins remain under pressure and (we) expect dividends to remain flat for the foreseeable future," analysts at Bank of America Merrill Lynch wrote in a note.
The bank's share prices were down more than 3 percent at 16.48 francs by 1304 GMT, when the Stoxx 600 Europe banking sector index <.SX7P> was down 0.8 percent.
UBS netted 100 million francs in fourth-quarter savings, bringing net cost cuts since 2013 to 1.6 billion francs. It is aiming for total cuts of 2.1 billion francs by the end of 2017.
(Reporting by Joshua Franklin; Editing by Jason Neely, Greg Mahlich)