MILAN (BLOOMBERG) - UniCredit chief executive officer Jean Pierre Mustier will reward investors with 2 billion euros (S$3 billion) of share buybacks in a new four-year strategic plan that will see about 8,000 job cuts as Italy's biggest bank grapples with slow economic growth and negative interest rates.
The lender, announcing its new targets through 2023, said it will boost shareholder remuneration through a combination of dividends and share repurchases. The job cuts, equal to more than 9 per cent of the workforce, will in part come through the closure of about 500 branches. UniCredit also announced a separate buyback equal to 10 per cent of 2019 earnings.
Mustier is seeking to drive investor returns through cost cuts and greater efficiency while signaling that the bank is struggling to boost growth in an era of negative rates. Revenue and costs are expected to be little changed through 2023, with the bank focused on eking out what it can on its own rather than attempting major deals.
The plan's targets are "pragmatic and achievable," Mustier said in the statement. "They are based on a realistic set of macroeconomic assumptions, being more conservative than those assumed by the market."
UniCredit expects to deliver 1 billion euros of savings in Western Europe, partially achieved through the job and branch cuts. The expected 1.4 billion-euro cost of the initiative will be booked in 2019 and 2020.
The CEO will focus on further simplifying the bank's structure and improving the way it allocates capital. UniCredit plans to create a sub-holding company to control its international businesses and it will further reduce its non-performing loans.
UniCredit will distribute 40 per cent of underlying profit from 2020 to 2022, paying out 30 per cent as a cash dividend and buying back stock equal to 10 per cent of its earnings. The dividend will increase to 40 per cent in 2023 with share purchases boosting total remuneration to 50 per cent. The buyback based on 2019 earnings will increase the payout to 40 per cent from 30 per cent previously announced.
Ahead of the new strategic plan, UniCredit took a number of steps this year to get out of businesses that aren't key to its operations. The bank agreed to sell a direct stake of 9 per cent in Yapi ve Kredi Bankasi to Koc Holding, unwinding their joint venture in the Turkish lender in a move that will lead to 1 billion euros of losses. The company earlier this year also sold its holdings of Italy's Banca Fineco.
Despite tougher regulation in the coming years, UniCredit plans to keep its common equity Tier 1 ratio at 200-250 basis points over regulatory requirements throughout the plan. Revenue is expected to rise by just 0.8 per cent a year through 2023, as low and negative interest rates continue to hurt earnings from lending at banks across the euro zone.
UniCredit posted a better-than-expected 26 per cent rise in adjusted profit in the third quarter and boosted its CET1 ratio, a key measure of financial strength, after the sale of businesses.