More jobs to go at UBS as investors vent their frustration

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The Independent Online

For executives at UBS, the worst European victim of the credit crunch, this was Groundhog Day.

Just two months after the bank's savaging from shareholders in the wake of its staggering $37bn (£19bn) writedowns, they were yesterday back in familiar surroundings for the annual general meeting.

The venue, Basel's St Jakobshalle conference hall, was the same – and so was the atmosphere, a poisonous cocktail of shareholder misery and fury.

UBS executives could at least say they had comfortably passed all their resolutions, including the controversial appointment of its new chairman and the plan for a Sfr15bn (£7.45bn) capital raising. The bank also announced that in the wake of its first full-year losses, it would drastically cut back its investment banking operations. There was little comfort from the audience, however. The six UBS executives up on the dais knew they were in for a long day when chairman Marcel Ospel announced there had been 50 applications to speak before the first motion alone.

Mr Ospel had opened the proceedings with his valedictory speech as he prepared to step down after seven years at the helm. He was given a warm, if muted, round of applause as he concluded, saying the bank had "weathered the worst, that the storm is gradually passing and that we will soon be sailing into calmer waters". The chief executive, Marcel Rohner, then offered his own apologies for the bank's losses. "We know which mistakes we made," he added. "The far-reaching consequences of our misjudgement have already taken hold, and we cannot turn back the clock. Yet the bank has started putting in measures to correct the errors and avoid them in future."

And then came the procession of shareholders, some bemused, some disgruntled, others plain furious, with various demands for further extraordinary general meetings, a complete overhaul of the board and disclosure of Mr Ospel's severance package. None was granted.

The AGM gave the stage to a number of colourful investors. One Italian shareholder, who yelled questions even when the microphone was turned off, also tore up the annual report, saying it "wasn't worth the paper it was written on".

Another talked, presumably ironically, of the tears of compassion he wept when he heard Mr Ospel's pay packet had been slashed by 90 per cent. He presented the chairman with a string of sausages "now you are not so well off".

Others were simply angry. Independent shareholder Paul Helfenstein pulled no punches as he called the board "a club of daylight robbers", whose "arrogant behaviour is of the lowest possible standard". Another brought out a red card from his pocket and showed it to the executives. Yet, all eyes were on the vote to confirm Peter Kurer, the group's in-house legal counsel, as Mr Ospel's replacement. The appointment has been publicly opposed by former UBS chief executive Luqman Arnold, whose Olivant group now holds 1.1 per cent of the group, and several shareholders echoed the point yesterday.

Walter Benz said: "Mr Kurer was on the boat that went wrong; he was one of those at the helm. We need someone from outside. Those from the inside will not gain our trust."

The boos and whistles rang out at as Mr Kurer was appointed with 585.4 million votes, against 44.8 million. The cat calls drowned out the words of congratulation from the outgoing chairman Mr Ospel as he handed over a symbolic key representing chairmanship of the bank.

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