BNP fails in bid to create Europe's biggest bank

BANK OF FRANCE governor Jean-Claude Trichet will try to broker a compromise on Tuesday in a bitter three-way banking takeover battle to create the world's richest bank, with an estimated $1 trillion (pounds 625bn) in assets.

The French stock market regulator announced yesterday that Banque Nationale de Paris (BNP) had won its bid for control of Paribas but had only secured 36.8 per cent of Societe Generale, the other bank it wanted.

BNP launched its hostile bid for the two banks in March, just seven days before its old rival, SocGen, was to merge with Paribas. BNP's offer to buy both banks, and SocGen's retaliatory bid for Paribas, closed on 6 August.

The take-over battle was marked by $28m-worth of advertising as the competing sides tried to get their visions across to shareholders.

But City banking analysts were still dismayed by the result. "It's a split decision - the worst possible outcome," said Matthew Czepliewicz at Solomon Smith Barney, who predicted that the battle is not yet over.

"If you were playing probabilities, you would expect the government and the Bank of France to briefly attempt to broker a deal and fail," he said. "Then BNP would be declared the victor for Paribas and, in theory, it could re-bid for SocGen."

SocGen is deemed unlikely to accept any solution that involves a deal with BNP because of the ill feelings generated by the bid, the most acrimonious in French stock market history. But the French government is concerned about a foreign predator snapping up SocGen and would prefer the super- merger option.

SocGen is expected to argue on Tuesday that it can go it alone with the help of two other shareholders, Britain's CGU and the Spanish bank, BSCH, both of which have recently increased their stakes. "The big question mark is what they [CGU and BSCH] will do next," said a spokeswoman for BNP.

Under French stock market traditions BNP could argue it has political control over SocGen because it has the biggest chunk of shareholders on its side.

Last June Mr Trichet tried in a mammoth 40-hour negotiating session to broker a peaceful compromise and failed, so it seems unlikely he will succeed on Tuesday, analysts said.

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