Investors aren’t happy with Deutsche Bank’s vague plans for a turnaround. But they’re giving leadership more time to get it right.
The bank’s stock fell 2.4% to a new record low Thursday as the annual meeting of Deutsche Bank shareholders heard CEO Christian Sewing and chairman Paul Achleitner pledge new cost cuts yet stop short of announcing a more dramatic overhaul.
Shareholders aren’t ready to give up on management yet. A majority of those who voted chose to endorse Sewing, Achleitner and their teams, ending speculation they could face a revolt like the one that occurred at Bayer’s annual meeting last month.
Still, patience with the troubled bank is running thin. Revenue at Deutsche Bank is falling faster than it can trim expenses, and legal and regulatory scrutiny continue to generate negative headlines in Europe and the United States. Shares have plummeted roughly 40% in the past year.
Deutsche Bank plays a vital role in the German economy, and is one of nearly 120 banks supervised by the European Central Bank because of its importance to the region’s financial system. It manages €1.4 trillion ($1.6 trillion) in assets and employs more than 91,000 people around the world.
Sewing, Achleitner and the rest of management knew they would face a tough crowd in Frankfurt on Thursday.
“I will work with all my strength to boost our share price,” Sewing said at the meeting, delivering prepared remarks.
But he largely stuck by previously articulated plans to keep cutting costs, while focusing on divisions within the bank that are a reliable source of revenue, such as managing money for corporate clients.
Sewing pointed to Deutsche’s investment banking unit as a division that would be subject to “tough cutbacks” without going into details.
The company has stepped back from some investment banking activities in recent years. But the unit still accounts for more than half the bank’s revenue and is under strain, eating up huge chunks of capital even as it falls further behind competitors.
Sewing also defended the bank’s decision to enter into merger talks with crosstown rival Commerzbank (CRZBF), which collapsed last month.
“If the opportunity arises to merge with the number two bank in Germany, then it’s an opportunity we must investigate,” he said.
Achleitner, in his own remarks, said that Sewing has the board’s full support.
“Despite all the difficulties, I believe we’re on the right track,” he said.
Investors may not agree, but they’re at least willing to give Sewing and Achleitner longer to get the bank in order.
Roughly 75% of voting investors opted to approve Sewing’s actions last year, while nearly 72% voted to do the same for Achleitner.
Those votes run counter to the advice given by influential proxy advisory firms Institutional Shareholder Services and Glass Lewis. They had recommended that investors withhold approval for the actions of the management and board.
A separate proposal to remove Achleitner from his position received support of less than 1%.
Deutsche Bank has struggled to find direction in the years following the global financial crisis, attempting a series of overhauls that have failed to yield consistent profits.
Its problems were on full display in its recent earnings report. Profit rose 67% in the first three months of the year, but that was due entirely to the latest round of belt-tightening. Revenue fell 9%, and the company said it would be “essentially flat” for the year.
Shares took a hit this week when UBS changed its rating on the bank’s stock to “sell” from “neutral.” UBS pointed to shrinking revenues, which it said will “remain under pressure.” Its analysts said they don’t expect leadership to make any big strategic moves soon.
Deutsche Bank will most likely stick with its “muddle through” approach, continuing to target costs while trying to grow and defend the bank’s revenue base, the UBS analysts said.
Executives remain distracted by a number of legal and regulatory issues. Deutsche Bank offices in Frankfurt were raided by German prosecutors in November 2018 as part of a money laundering probe. Subsequent raids of other banks, asset managers and private individuals took place last week.
Sewing said the November raids had been “severely damaging” for the bank after images of the searches “hit TV screens across the world.”
Deutsche Bank needs to “further strengthen its controls” and will continue to focus on promoting cultural changes within the bank, he added.
Deutsche Bank is also at the center of political conversations in the United States related to its business with President Donald Trump. House lawmakers are working to access the president’s financial records with the bank.
The New York Times reported this week that Deutsche Bank anti-money laundering specialists once recommended that transactions involving entities controlled by Trump and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, be reported to a US agency that investigates financial crimes. The Times said executives at Deutsche Bank rejected the advice of their specialists.