UBS says Asia’s wealthy trade less, cut debt as politics shift

ZURICH (Reuters) – Wealthy Asian investors are trading less, worried that trade tensions are tilting the global balance of power, Martin Blessing, co-head of wealth management at UBS (UBSG.S), said.

FILE PHOTO: The logo of Swiss bank UBS is seen at a branch office in Basel, Switzerland March 29, 2017. Picture taken on March 29, 2017. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann/File Photo

“I think they would share the conclusion that it is not only about tariffs, it is more about political balance. That might take longer to resolve. People who had taken leverage to invest into the market … have retrenched a bit,” he told Reuters.

As geopolitical jitters and trade tensions have put pressure on its main business, Switzerland’s biggest bank, which is also the world’s largest wealth manager, is turning to ultra-rich Americans for growth.

While U.S. clients have begun to take more note of ongoing trade wars, their mood remains more positive, Blessing said.

UBS has seen a rise in their investments. Democrats took control of the U.S. congressional House of Representatives and made gains in state governor races in November.

“Their willingness to invest has gone up. Their outlook on the capital market has become even more positive,” he said.

Blessing expects profitability in the wealth management business to remain good, despite margin pressure.

“Competitive pressure will continue, profit margins are coming down, and then you either have to find different business opportunities or you have to grow volumes to make up for the revenues,” the German, former Commerzbank (CBKG.DE) CEO said.

Although margins are higher on business for so-called high net worth and affluent clients, UBS will continue focusing on so-called ultra high net worth individuals, to capture faster market growth amongst billionaires.

Asked whether he might be interested in succeeding Sergio Ermotti, who has been UBS Chief Executive for seven years, Blessing, who started at the Swiss bank in 2016, said:

“My experience is you should not worry too much about career planning. You should worry about the job you are currently doing, how can you do it better. Career planning other people do for you.”

Reporting by Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi; Editing by Alexander Smith

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