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Les Miserables

22 February 2012

France’s largest banks are battling harsh market conditions by shedding jobs and reducing their balance sheets. Does this spell an end to their leadership in project lending or is it a chance for a strategic repositioning? By Antony Collins.

It has been a troublesome year for the French financial system. Standard & Poor’s decision to strip France of its cherished AAA credit rating at the start of 2012 was perhaps more symbolic than substantial, but it capped a problematic period for the country that involved dealing with the eurozone crisis, a fresh set of capital adequacy reforms in banking and a lethargic interbank lending market. The country’s largest commercial banks, which navigated the credit crunch relatively safely, have been the biggest losers. The most obvious impact of this weakness has been in jobs, with the big three French banks – Société Générale (SG), BNP Paribas and Crédit Agricole – cutting 1,800 corporate and investment banking positions (around 10% of staff in these divisions) between them in the last two months. But while staffing levels at such institutions are always volatile, the more seismic shift has been with the disposal...

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