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As Tidjane Thiam struggles, here’s who Credit Suisse ought to be cutting really

Tidjane Thiam strategy Credit Suisse

Time to rethink the commitment to Asia?

It’s happening again at Credit Suisse. Late last night, the Swiss bank announced that it will be cutting another 2,000 jobs from its global markets division – 15% of the 13,000 global markets employees it had at the last count. The new cuts follow apparent big losses on distressed debt and illiquid positions accumulated without the knowledge of Thiam or his CFO David Mathers. Trading revenue at the investment bank is expected to be down nearly 50% year-on-year in the first quarter as a result.

Thiam is clear about who’s being cut. The bank is exiting distressed debt trading, European securitized product trading and “long term illiquid funding.” It’s focusing global markets cost cutting efforts on the Americas and Europe. And it’s reversing its previous strategy of increasing risk weighted assets in global markets and corporate finance by 25% between now and 2018 (although it was always slashing in macro trading and prime services) and is cutting risk weighted assets in the trading unit by a further 20%.

Who’s safe? Predictably, anyone in Asia Pacific – Thiam’s favourite region, looks fine. Wealth managers look fine too. In yesterday’s announcement, Thiam said the bank “continues to make strategic hires” for its investment banking and capital markets business and praised its “marquee wins” in APAC. He said too that the bank, “continues to make progress in recruiting relationship managers.”

Is Credit Suisse cutting in the right places? Recent research from intelligence firm Tricumen suggested Credit Suisse is most overstaffed in US fixed income sales and trading (where it is cutting), and in Asian fixed income sales and trading (where it’s seemingly not). Analysts at J.P. Morgan say the new cuts still don’t go far enough.

Today’s announcement will also raise further questions over Thiam’s ability to steer Credit Suisse’s investment bank. Only last October, Thiam was defending the securitization unit he now plans to cut. Most damningly, there are allegations that Credit Suisse’s distressed debt traders weren’t fully briefed of the bank’s plan to pull back from distressed debt trading before Thiam announced it in an interview in February.  This is said to have made the losses on the illiquid trades worse as buyers bid CS traders down in the knowledge that they needed to sell for strategic reasons. Credit Suisse declined to comment.

Some of Credit Suisse distressed debt and high yield staff have already left. Last week, it was announced that Matthew Courey, head of high-yield bond trading at the bank was off to work in the charitable sector.  Robert MacNaughton, head of US distressed debt trading, left in December.

Meanwhile, there were reports in January that Thiam had been approached by Swiss headhunters to replace Christine Lagarde at the IMF. Now headhunters in London say there are (probably spurious) rumours that Credit Suisse is looking to parachute in a former executive – maybe Brady Dougan- to replace Thiam. Credit Suisse declined to comment on this too.

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