UBS is still a big player despite recent predicaments

David Hellier
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Anybody taking just a cursory glance at the headlines about UBS’s investment bank recently, might be forgiven for thinking it was something of a basket case.

What with the news of a plan to shrink headcount by 10,000, a strategic refocusing of strategy away from high risk, complex trading products, followed by a guilty verdict and a seven year jail sentence for Kweku Adoboli, one of its former traders, and you might imagine the Swiss-based firm’s Finsbury Pavement offices would be a rather sombre place.

But bank insiders tell me new investment banking head Andrea Orcel is managing to keep his colleagues’ faith alive, partly through a series of convincing town hall meetings and partly through an upbeat assessment of what the bank has already achieved deal-wise in what has been such a difficult year.

In a quietish market for initial public offerings (IPOs) in Europe, UBS has featured on some of the largest deals and features high up in the league tables published by Dealogic.

At the beginning of the year, the bank’s equity capital markets team, co-headed by Darrell Uden and Chicco Di Stasi, advised on Ziggo, the largest Dutch IPO since 2001, and alongside Deutsche on DKSH.

These deals effectively re-opened what had been a dormant IPO market in Europe as the markets quaked through fear of a total and uncontrolled collapse of the Eurozone.

As the financial markets have generally stabilised, UBS has been present again. It was a book-runner on the London flotation of the insurer Direct Line and acted again on the Telefonica Deutschland deal.

It is also one of the two joint advisers, along with Credit Suisse, on the planned London and Kazakhstani flotation of Kcell, the telecoms group.

Earlier in the year, on a deal led by Orcel’s former employer Bank of America Merrill Lynch, UBS acted as a bookrunner on the £6bn rights issue for Unicredit.

It was shortly after this deal, the riskiest of the year, that Orcel moved to UBS, where he joined as co-head of investment banking.

Many say Orcel has re-invigorated the place and convinced doubters that the group’s investment bank has the commitment to weather the storms that have knocked it since the financial crash and beyond.

Soon after this arrival, Orcel won a role for the bank in the IPO of Santander Mexico and weeks later he helped get a seat at the table for the rights issue of the Spanish lender Banco Popular.

He also freshened things up by brining with him six hires from his former employer. Known affectionately as Andrea’s waterboys by former colleagues, they include Javier Oficialdegui, equity capital markets specialist Javier Martinez-Piqueras, as well as Emilio Greco in Italy and Alberto Palombi, an expert in emerging markets.

None of this means that UBS has yet been restored to its former glory, when the likes of Jon Wood and the late Brian Keelan gave the firm a top-ranking position in the banking league tables. But there appears to be a mood of quiet confidence coming out of the London offices that maybe has not been around for a while, despite the recent lay-offs.