Swiss lawmakers pick apart Credit Suisse woes ahead of deal

GENEVA (AP) – Switzerland’s parliament is opening a special session Tuesday to scrutinize the state-imposed takeover of Swiss bank Credit Suisse by rival UBS – and possibly considering strengthening the legal arsenal to better gird against financial blowups.

The debate could run up to three days, with expectations that lawmakers will voice – and need to iron out – disagreements over the 3 billion Swiss franc ($3.25 billion) fusion of the country’s top two banks, a thunderclap for a country that prides itself on finesse and acumen in finance.

Swiss authorities stepped in as shares of Credit Suisse and other banks plunged last month after the failure of two U.S. banks sparked concerns about other potentially shaky institutions in the global financial system. Credit Suisse is among 30 financial institutions known as globally systemically important banks, and authorities worried about the fallout if it were to fail.

Lawmakers were expected to raise concerns about thousands of expected job cuts, discuss possible strengthening of banking laws and accountability for long-troubled Credit Suisse, and look at state-backed guarantees of over $100 billion aimed both at holding the bank together until the merger is completed and buttressing UBS against possible losses as it combines with its rival.

They also were likely to consider what it will mean that Switzerland is set to have one giant bank.

Despite the talk, few concrete results were expected from the session, which is primarily expected to flesh out ideas – and possibly some vitriol – from lawmakers who all face reelection this fall.

Yvan Lengwiler, an economics professor at the University of Basel, suggested that the debate would play into a longtime “tug-of-war” between lawmakers who have lobbied in favor of Swiss banks over the years and others who have long sought to stiffen regulation.

“It seems that the pendulum, after this debacle we’ve seen, has clearly shifted towards strengthening,” he said. “Two years from now … the political situation might be very different, and it could be quite difficult to get this through parliament.”

The Swiss attorney general’s office has already opened a probe into events surrounding Credit Suisse ahead of the takeover, and the executive branch last week ordered tens of millions in cuts to the bonuses of top Credit Suisse executives.

Lawmakers largely were expected to line up behind the rescue plan – even if reluctantly for some – and were not yet expected to authorize a parliamentary investigation of the epochal rescue of Credit Suisse, a 167-year-old pillar of Swiss banking.

Lengwiler, who specializes in financial market regulation, noted that the combined bank will have a balance sheet that will be twice as large as Switzerland’s annual economy.

That’s nothing new: Both Credit Suisse and UBS had bigger balance sheets than the Swiss economy before the 2008 financial crisis. But this combined bank will be unprecedented in size and heft, presenting new challenges for government officials.

“What’s new here is that it’s the only kid on the block now,” Lengwiler said. “UBS is really the only game in town and … has become extremely dominant, and that is a problem for Switzerland.”

“It’s maybe too large for the country,” he added.

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