Earlier this month, following the collapse of merger talks with Commerzbank in April, Deutsche Bank's share price hit the lowest point of its 149-year history.
Fitch, a credit-rating agency, cut the bank's rating to two notches above junk. In May, Christian Sewing, its chief executive, promised "tough cutbacks" in the ailing investment-banking business, with plans to be laid out alongside half-year results on July 24. But on June 16, a leak in the Financial Times revealed the outlines.
The cuts (which Deutsche has not confirmed) go well beyond its investment-banking arm. Its rates and equities trading business outside Europe will be trimmed, and a "bad bank" created to hold noncore assets that generate little or no revenue. At up to €50 billion ($56 billion), that is a sizable chunk of Deutsche's risk-weighted assets.
Cuts to the underperforming trading operations had been expected, but the idea of a noncore unit is new. Like several other big banks, Deutsche had shoved €128 billion of debts into a bad bank in the wake of the financial crisis. After years of restructuring, it is hard to see how on earth it still has dud assets on its books. But apparently so.
Can the moribund Teutonic giant be shaken back into life?
After the leak its share price rose 2%, only swiftly to sink again. Investors fear the changes are too little, too late.
Deutsche's biggest problems are a failing investment-banking arm, high funding costs and the lack of a reliable profit generator, such as the private-wealth management units that keep Swiss banks going through lean years. Sewing's restructuring plan does little to address any of these except the first.
Moreover, they are harder without profits. The firm cannot take big upfront losses. "Deutsche Bank cannot afford radical change," said Daniele Brupbacher at UBS, a Swiss bank (and rival to Deutsche). Under Germany's strong labor laws, slashing head count would mean stiff social-insurance payments.
Offloading dud assets is expensive, too. Deutsche's post-crisis bad bank made losses of €14 billion.
The retrenchment marks a definitive end to Deutsche's aspirations to become Europe's Goldman Sachs. Now it would settle for being a German version of BNP Paribas, a French universal bank with most of its activities in Europe.