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Business

Opinion: Deutsche Bank on the brink

Deutsche Bank is caught in the deepest crisis of its history, and becoming competitive again is a far-off prospect. At this point it's a matter of survival, pure and simple, says DW's Henrik Böhme.

You have to hand it to John Cryan - he is doing his best.

Whereas the overly self-confident former CEO Josef Ackermann revered Deutsche Bank as a kind of Holy Grail, Cryan has taken a more humble approach. Today, for instance, he did what would have been unbearable for most: He announced that he and his fellow board members would forgo their bonuses for the last fiscal year.

Cryan is a fighter, an optimist. But he's also cleaning house with vigor. Because for Deutsche Bank, there's no other option.

Rock bottom

Only a few numbers are needed to portray the depth of the disaster Deutsche faces: $24 billion, $17 billion and $16 billion (22 billion, 15.6 billion and 14.7 billion euros). Those are the full-year profits raked in by US banks JP Morgan, Citigroup and Bank of America.

That's the league Deutsche Bank wanted to play in, but instead, they

racked up record losses

of nearly 7 billion euros.

Like Deutsche Bank, the others also had to pay drastic penalties for their misconduct. They, too, have been kept on a short leash by regulators. And they've had to win back trust as well.

But it was only Deutsche Bank that investors ran from in droves.

DW's senior business editor Henrik Böhme

DW's senior business editor Henrik Böhme

Since John Cryan assumed his role as CEO last summer, Deutsche Bank's already low

stock price

has fallen by nearly half. Adding insult to injury, a ratings agency has already downgraded the bank, citing a negative outlook.

In terms of stock market value, Germany's flagship bank doesn't even crack the world's Top 50. With a market capitalization of 20 billion euro, it's practically a takeover candidate.

But the Frankfurt-based bank hardly needs to worry about that - because who would buy a business that's in a tailspin? One that is frantically seeking a sustainable business model and its raison d'etre?

Does it really want to remain a universal bank? Or would it be better off splitting up its core functions? And can it handle the challenges of digitalizing its operations?

The new leadership has yet to answer these questions. Still, there is a lot of optimism - talk about a "light at the end of the tunnel." But that light may just as well belong to a locomotive on its way to run Deutsche Bank over.

Using the chances it doesn't have

Clearly these are bitter times. Nearly 7 billion euros in losses is a catastrophe that shakes the bank to its very core. At the same time, Deutsche bank needs money - and fast - to be able to withstand the gigantic restructuring Cryan has in store. And nobody knows how expensive the bank's legal penalties could wind up being.

The worst case scenario would be losing its banking license in the US. This seems unlikely, but the Americans aren't exactly on the friendliest of terms with the Germans. Just ask

Volkswagen.

Indeed, there may be some

reason for hope.

Deutsche Bank could start earning money again this year. But none of its board members would bet the farm on it.

And yet it is so important for Germany's position in the world that Deutsche Bank becomes a global player again. What would it say about this nation of exporters if it could no longer boast a big, successful and international bank?

One can take pleasure in Deutsche Bank's pain, or one can hope that it gets back on its feet.

To do that, it needs time and trust - two things it does not have. The market is merciless, and John Cryan and his team seem to have no chance of success. But perhaps therein lies their opportunity. After all, as in the world of sports, there is such a thing as beating the odds and making a spectacular comeback.

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