Stock market champion dumps his shares
The man who encouraged thousands of Swiss households to sink their savings into investment funds has now sold his share of those funds to a bank.
Martin Ebner's BZ Group Holding announced on Wednesday that it was selling all of its registered shares in its listed investment funds to Zurich Cantonal Bank.
The champion of shareholder value is handing control of the funds to the bank for an undisclosed sum. The funds in question - Pharma Vision, BK Vision, Spezialitaten Vision and Stillhalter Vision - have equity holdings worth about SFr3 billion.
The deal came as a surprise after BZ Group on Monday denied newspaper reports that it was facing major financial problems following recent stock market turbulence.
Swiss media said that BZ had overextended itself with options issues. It had also borrowed money with shares as collateral, and now needed more collateral as the shares' value had dropped.
BZ executive Kurt Schiltknecht confirmed on Wednesday that the group had recently spent hundreds of millions of francs in buying back shares in the investment funds. He added that this was not sustainable though because of market conditions.
Martin Ebner, considered by many to be a maverick in Switzerland's staid investment world, tapped the wealth of thousands of Swiss households. He popularised investments in shares as a way of beating low interest rates on savings accounts.
The funds will be secure in the hands of Zurich Cantonal Bank - it is Switzerland's third largest bank and has a state guarantee from canton Zurich's taxpayers.
But given the abysmal performance of the stock markets, many Swiss who bought into Ebner's dream of shareholder value are likely to be wishing they had just left their savings in the post office.
The Vision investment funds, which hold shares in companies such as Novartis, UBS, ABB and Nestlé, have lost up to half their value since the beginning of the year.
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