Tax issue pushes Deutsche Bank to third straight annual loss

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Deutsche Bank CEO John Cryan says Germany's largest financial institution is making progress in its effort to cut costs and streamline operations - despite posting a third straight annual loss.

Cryan said Friday that many important steps would take time to improve profits. He cited slashing the number of overlapping computer systems, ditching businesses in less-profitable countries, and installing a low-cost culture.

Earlier, Deutsche Bank posted a 2017 loss of 497 million euros ($627 million). That would have been a profit of 900 million euros had the bank not have to adjust deferred tax assets due to recent U.S. corporate tax changes.

The results sent the bank's shares sharply lower. They traded down 5.6 percent on the day at 13.93 euros in midday trading in Europe.

Cryan said it's "always been clear that it would take more than two or three years" to achieve the bank's full potential but "good progress" was being made.

The bank said the new tax regime would be positive for its earnings in the future. The results showed the bank, a pillar of Germany's economy, still struggling to turn solid profits after years of wrenching restructuring and legal trouble.

Earnings have been eroded by a low interest rate environment that has squeezed interest margins - by charges for past misconduct, including a $7.2 billion settlement with U.S. authorities over complex securities based on house mortgages, and by new regulatory and compliance burdens aimed at stabilizing the banking system after the global financial crisis.

Deutsche Bank has also taken write-downs and losses on businesses and investments that it decided to shed as it refocused its business and reduced risky holdings. The bank has slashed its workforce and withdrawn from doing business in some countries.

Earnings last year were helped by dwindling expenses for litigation resulting from past misconduct and by lower asset impairments.

The bank's fourth-quarter loss of 2.2 billion euros reflected the tax charge - but also weakness in key businesses such as bond and currency trading, where income fell 29 percent.

Unusually low market volatility during the fourth quarter led to lower client activity and thus less revenue for the bank. Equity sales and trading also fell, by 25 percent year on year.

Cryan said that the current zero-interest rate environment - the result of the European Central Bank's stimulus efforts - was hurting earnings. He said if the ECB raised its benchmark by just one percentage point, then the bank would gain 1.4 billion euros in the first year and 1.6 billion in the second without any additional expense. The ECB's main interest rate is currently zero.

ECB officials have pointed out that the stimulus, which involves the purchase of bonds to keep market interest rates low, has actually helped banks by supporting the economic recovery. That reduces the amount of loans that are not repaid by businesses.

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