© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Logo of Swiss bank UBS is seen in Zurich

By Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi

ZURICH (Reuters) – UBS (S:) on Tuesday posted a $690 million fourth-quarter pre-tax profit, hit by a slowdown in its flagship wealth management business and weaker earnings in its investment bank.

On an adjusted basis, fourth-quarter pre-tax profit fell to $862 million, less than the $1.038 billion forecast in the bank’s own analyst consensus summary, under conditions Chief Executive Sergio Ermotti described as “historically tough”.

The Swiss bank, which manages more than $2 trillion of the world’s wealth, saw $7.9 billion in wealth management net new money outflows — a closely watched metric of future earnings — over the last three months of 2018.

As clients removed risk from their portfolios, traded less and stocked up on cash amid geopolitical tensions, adjusted pre-tax earnings in its flagship wealth management business fell 22 percent.

The bank in December had flagged further deleveraging and a trading slowdown amongst wealthy Asian customers worried about ongoing trade wars. It said on Tuesday a tepid investor mood would continue dampening first-quarter results.

“Lack of progress in resolving geopolitical tensions, rising protectionism and trade disputes along with increased volatility, which affected investor sentiment and confidence in the second half of the year and particularly in the fourth quarter of 2018, would affect client activity in the first quarter of 2019,” it said.

Full-year net profit rose to $4.897 billion from $969 million in 2017, when a one-off 2.9 billion franc hit from U.S. tax reforms dampened results. Five analysts polled by Reuters on average had forecast a net profit of $4.906 billion for 2018.

The bank proposed a dividend of 0.70 Swiss francs ($0.7017) for 2018, up from 0.65 Swiss francs the prior year, and said it aimed to buy back up to $1 billion in shares in 2019.

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