ZURICH — Swatch Group has suffered a legal setback after the commercial court here rejected its claim for damages of 24.8 million Swiss francs, or $28 million at current exchange, against Swiss bank UBS over an unsuccessful investment.
The world’s biggest watch group said it would appeal against the ruling and turn to Switzerland’s highest court instead.
The case dates back to a big Swatch Group investment in a UBS product on the eve of the 2008-2009 financial crisis. After the value of the investment plunged, Swatch Group claimed it had been ill advised. Attempts to secure an out-of-court settlement failed, prompting the company to file suit. UBS argued the investment had been made in good faith, attention had been drawn to the risks and Swatch Group was a professional investor.
Swatch Group spokesperson Seraina Chiesura said the commercial court’s decision “doesn’t surprise us, as three of the five court members are bank representatives.” By appealing to the Federal Tribunal, the company “hopes to find a court without a banker majority and a banker mentality,” she added. UBS was not immediately available for comment. The bank generally declines to discuss legal issues.
Tuesday’s court decision broadly backed UBS, saying its advice had been appropriate given the circumstances just before the crisis. Moreover, as an informed and experienced investor, Swatch was “an equal” to UBS in selecting products, which were appropriate given Swatch Group’s risk profile and investment targets.
Swatch Group, controlled by the founding Hayek family, often presents itself as a foil to what chief executive Nick Hayek dismisses as short-termist bankers and analysts. Stressing its deep and long-term industrial roots, the group regularly derides the profit-maximizing motives of the financial community.
In one year during the crisis, it printed prominent notes on the cover of its annual report, saying this was not a publication for financial jugglers or acrobats. Other idiosyncrasies have included eschewing industry practice of providing advance information about publication dates for key financial results, or releasing information unexpectedly, in what some observers view as attempts to wrong-foot short-term investors or hedge funds.