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Axa plots Paribas break-up

AXA, THE insurance giant whose behind-the-scenes machinations precipitated France's banking bid war, is considering pushing for a revival of attempts to merge Paribas' investment banking operations with US investment bank Donaldson Lufkin Jenrette if, as looks increasingly likely, Banque Nationale de Paris wins control of Paribas.

The results will not officially be known until next week at the earliest but leaks yesterday pointed strongly toward BNP emerging with around 60 per cent of Paribas, but only 32 per cent of Societe Generale, the retail bank with which BNP has been keenest to merge. Michel Pebereau, BNP chairman, is expected to argue the stake gives it effective control of both banks, an argument which will be fiercely contested by Daniel Bouton, his opposite number at SocGen.

Jean-Claude Trichet, Governor of the Bank of France, is expected to summon the heads of the three French banks in the bid battle for talks early next week.He has made it clear that he will not allow a situation where the three banks end up with hostile blocking minorities in each other. However, French banking sources are doubtful whether he will have any more success in breaking the stalemate than he did when he attempted to intervene in the dispute in June.

Several foreign institutions, including BSCH, Spain's largest bank, and Britain's CGU are waiting in the wings, having both bought substantial stakes in Societe Generale in the past few weeks, despite warnings from Dominique Strauss-Kahn, France's Finance Minister, not to get involved.

Claude Bebear, chairman of Axa - a large shareholder in Paribas - has long been keen that Paribas find a US investment banking partner.