UBS Now Getting as Much Scrutiny as Its Rogue Trader

Credit agencies are warning of a downgrade

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When the news broke yesterday that a London-based UBS employee had been arrested in connection with unauthorized trades that cost the Swiss bank $2 billion, much of the early coverage focused on digging up as much information as possible on the 31-year-old suspect, Kweku Adoboli. With details slow to emerge about Adoboli's case, the coverage has shifted today to what responsibility UBS itself should shoulder for the fraud. John Gapper at The Financial Times presaged the debate yesterday by asking whether UBS was in fact an accident-prone "rogue bank."

In the wake of Thursday's revelations, Reuters notes, the three major credit-rating agencies--Standard & Poor's, Fitch, and Moody's--have all put UBS's credit rating on negative watch because of concerns about risk management. Reuters describes the rogue trader scandal as "the final nail in the coffin" for UBS, which nearly collapsed during the financial crisis in 2008 and is now coming under pressure from shareholders and Swiss regulators to scale back its investment bank business and announce a major restructuring that could involve the loss of thousands of jobs. A $2 billion will also wipe out the first year of savings from the bank's recently-announced cost-cutting plan, Reuters adds. The FT says that thousands of UBS bankers could receive no bonuses this year because the $2 billion hit, while not large enough to fell the bank as a whole, "could effectively wipe out any profits from its investment banking operations for 2011."

New information about Adoboli is trickling in as well. An anonymous source tells The Wall Street Journal that Adoboli, who worked with exchange-traded funds, emailed UBS managers and admitted to making unauthorized trades after being questioned by his employer, prompting his arrest early Thursday morning. Sky News adds that Adoboli has hired the same law firm that represented infamous rogue trader Nick Leeson, who brought down Britain's Barings Bank in 1995. Adoboli's father John, a retired U.N. employee from Ghana, told Reuters  from the Ghanaian port city of Tema that he believes the loss incurred by his son may have stemmed from "a mistake or wrongful judgment," though he hadn't yet spoken with Kweku. According to Bloomberg, Kweku Adoboli left a cryptic message on his Facebook page--which has reportedly been flooded with messages of support in recent hours--on September 6: "Need a miracle." According to Reuters, the market is speculating that Adoboli was shocked by the Swiss central bank's decision to impose a cap on the franc, causing the currency to plummet and Swiss shares to rise.

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