Deutsche Bank (DB) - Get Reportfell sharply Friday as the beleaguered bank took another hit, this time from a whistleblower who says that its executives should foot the bill for an $8.25 million award to him granted under U.S. law.
The stock slid 3.4% to $13.50 in afternoon trading in New York. Before today, the Frankfurt-based bank's shares had fallen 44% this year, far worse than the KBW Bank Index, as litigation expenses mounted into the billions amid allegations of financial misconduct, including manipulation of its balance sheet; working with countries under American sanctions; and manipulating global benchmark interest rates.
In the latest debacle, Deutsche Bank whistleblower Eric Ben-Artzi articulated what a lot of people already suspected: that the revolving door between government regulators and the companies they oversee impairs their decisions.
In an op-ed in the Financial Times on Thursday, Ben-Artzi said he would not accept his half of the $16.5 million whistleblower award ordered by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission because he didn't want to "join the looting" of the stockholders he was hired to protect. Ben-Artzi suggested that the government didn't go after the bank's top executives because of conflicts of interest, and that if the money for his award was clawed back from their bonuses, he would be happy to accept it.
"Deutsche's top lawyers 'revolved' in and out of the SEC before, during and after the illegal activity at the bank," he wrote, adding that many of the attorneys moved to high-ranking positions at the SEC during the investigation of his claims, made around 2011.
"Deutsche was the victim," he wrote. "Meanwhile, top executives retired with multimillion-dollar bonuses based on the misrepresentation of the bank's balance sheet."
The vice-president of the market-risk department at Deutsche Bank, Ben-Artzi and two other employees told authorities that in the midst of the 2008 financial crisis, the bank failed to properly record on its balance sheet a potential loss of $1.5 billion to $3.3 billion tied to derivatives, the SEC said in a statement.
"Deutsche Bank's financial statements did not reflect the significant risk in these large, complex illiquid positions," Andrew Ceresney, director of the SEC's division of enforcement, said last year.
Germany's largest bank agreed in 2015 to pay an SEC fine of $55 million to settle the case. The Office of the Whistleblower, started in 2011 by the Dodd-Frank Act and administered at the SEC, awards employees who provide information that leads to a securities-law charge from 10% to 30% of any sanction higher than $1 million. The money is paid from a fund set up by Congress that relies on fines from securities-law violators.
While Ben-Artzi said that he would not accept his $8.25 million award, a portion of it must go to his lawyers, experts, and his ex-wife.
Although the bank's litigation woes appear to be nearing an end, CEO John Cryan said at the annual shareholder meeting that higher-than-expected legal costs weighed on its earnings in the first half of the year.
"Litigation expenses of this magnitude are completely unacceptable," Cryan said at the May meeting. "We are gradually approaching the home straight."
S&P Capital IQ analyst Firdaus Ibrahim, who has a "sell" rating on Deutsche with a price target of $12, says the bank won't have a "clean" year until 2018.
"It currently struggles with write-downs, litigation charges and restructuring costs," he wrote.
The company is restructuring itself, trying to de-risk its balance sheet and pare costs with the elimination of 3,000 jobs and the closings of 188 branches. Like other banks, it has struggled with low interest rates and "uncertainty over global growth," Ibrahim added.