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Bear market eats into Bär profits

Weak equity markets have led private bank Julius Bär to post a lower-than-expected net profit of SFr661 million ($568 million) for 2008.

The result, announced on Friday, is a 30 per cent decline over the previous year for Switzerland's third-largest bank.

The Zurich-based bank said total client assets fell 29 per cent to SFr338 billion but it had strong inflows with net new money of SFr22 billion.

It left its dividend unchanged at SFr0.50 and said it would continue its share buyback programme.

The group lost the head of its private bank in December when Alex Widmer committed suicide, prompting the appointment of Hans de Gier, the chairman of its hedge fund unit, to replace him at short notice.

Julius Bär has been one of the beneficiaries of billions in outflows from Switzerland's largest bank, UBS, whose reputation has been damaged after writing down $49 billion (SFr57 billion) in 2007 and 2008 and receiving a government bailout.

The company comprises private bank Julius Bär, hedge fund arm GAM and United States asset management unit Artio.

Julius Bär shares were down 21 per cent at SFr26.26 at midday. Earlier they had fallen 41 per cent, causing the Zurich market to halt trading for a minute.

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