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Julius Baer on takeover trail as U.S. tax case nears end

ZURICH (Reuters) – Swiss private bank Julius Baer is again looking for acquisitions now that a final settlement of U.S. allegations that it helped rich Americans dodge tax is within reach.

Provisions for the $547 million settlement, which has been approved by the Department of Justice but still needs a formal sign-off from a U.S. court, contributed to a fall of around two-thirds at Switzerland’s third-largest listed bank in 2015.

Excluding the tax case, Julius Baer reported on Monday that underlying net profit rose by a fifth to 701 million Swiss francs ($686 million), lagging the 729 million average in a Reuters poll.

Julius Baer shares fell nearly 2 percent at the open.

Clarity on the U.S. tax case means Baer can turn its attention to its core business of advising the world’s rich, which it said should get a boost from market volatility over the next three to five years.

It was also keeping a close eye out for takeovers.

“We believe that (bank) consolidation in Switzerland will accelerate,” finance chief Dieter Enkelmann told a call with reporters. “We look at all the targets as usual and if something would fit to Julius Baer from a cultural perspective and financially makes sense, as in the past we would jump on it.”

One bank that Chief Executive Boris Collardi said he is “not really” interested in is BSI, the Swiss private bank put on the market by Brazil’s BTG Pactual.

Baer has been one of the most active buyers of banks in recent years with Merrill Lynch’s international wealth management business as well as Bank Leumi’s Swiss and Luxembourg private banking business among recent purchases.

Baer proposed raising its 2015 dividend by 10 percent to 1.10 francs, in line with market expectations.

It also unveiled what it called “a sustainable and more predictable dividend policy”, under which the ordinary pay-out ratio will increase towards 40 percent of adjusted net profit and remain at least steady, barring significant events.

Net new money added 12 billion francs to assets under management that hit a record 300 billion francs last year.

Baer said it had decided that its previous floor of 15 percent for the phase-in BIS total capital ratio remained appropriate. It is introducing a new floor for the phase-in BIS common equity tier 1 capital ratio of 11 percent. ($1 = 1.0214 Swiss francs) (Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman and Alexander Smith)

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