By Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi
ZURICH (Reuters) - Credit Suisse set ambitious targets to reward shareholders on Thursday as CEO Tidjane Thiam responds to activist investor demands for better performance two years into a revamp following hefty losses and cash calls.
Switzerland's second-biggest bank is nearing the end of a three-year plan led by Thiam to cut costs and focus the bank more squarely on wealth management.
At its investor day in London, Credit Suisse announced new 2019 and 2020 yield targets and a plan to distribute half of net profit to shareholders primarily through share buybacks or special dividends.
"Our teams remain strongly focused on driving value for our clients and shareholders through 2018," Thiam said.
"Our objective is to achieve a group reported return on tangible equity (ROTE) of between 10 percent and 11 percent for 2019 and between 11 percent and 12 percent for 2020," he added.
This is the first time the bank, which has come under pressure from activist investor RBR, has announced ROTE goals since Thiam's revamp. It represents a major rise from the 4.1 percent return posted in the first nine months of 2017.
"We expect this to be driven in large part by strong cost control, the wind-down of the strategic resolution unit and significant reductions in our cost of funding, all elements which are largely within our control," Thiam said.
Shares rose over 4 percent to their highest level since early 2016.
"We welcome the introduction of a group ROTE target and will have to have a closer look at the underlying assumptions of Credit Suisse on how the targets shall be reached," Vontobel analyst Andreas Venditti said in a note.
RBR, the Swiss hedge fund led by Rudolf Bohli, has pushed the bank to cut costs further and boost shareholder returns. It last month presented a plan to break the bank up into three parts.
RBR has also offered to connect Credit Suisse with the Saudi royal family as potential major shareholders for the bank, a person familiar with the matter told Reuters.
However, its plan so far has failed to gain backing from major shareholders, and the bank and RBR are at odds on whether RBR has since reduced its 0.2 percent stake.
BANKS UNDER PRESSURE
Under pressure from low interest rates, declining margins and new competition from online, European banks have been carrying out sweeping cost cuts.
After 6.56 billion Swiss francs (£4.93 billion) in losses in 2016 and 2015 and raising capital twice, Credit Suisse has sailed through three consecutive quarters in profit this year, a first since Thiam joined the bank in July 2015.
By the end of this year, it expects to have cut 3.2 billion francs in costs. It has reduced thousands of jobs.
Credit Suisse aims to operate at a cost base of between 16.5 billion and 17 billion Swiss francs in 2019 and 2020, compared to the 2018 target for a base below 17 billion francs.
(Additional reporting by Oliver Hirt; editing by Keith Weir)