Moody's cuts three French banks

Fri Dec 9, 2011 7:33am EST
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By Leila Abboud and Christian Plumb

PARIS (Reuters) - Ratings agency Moody's downgraded the debt of BNP Paribas (BNPP.PA: Quote), Societe Generale (SOGN.PA: Quote), and Credit Agricole (CAGR.PA: Quote) on Friday, citing deteriorating liquidity and funding conditions.

Moody's cut its ratings on the long-term debt of BNP and Credit Agricole by one notch to Aa3, concluding reviews that began in June and were continued in September. Societe Generale's long-term debt was cut by one notch to A1.

The downgrades were driven by the increasing difficulties the banks were having in raising funding and the worsening economic outlook, Moody's said.

The French banks' ratings are still roughly level compared with their European peers, reflecting their strong retail operations and stable earnings.

The downgrade nevertheless comes at a sensitive time for the banks, which have seen their shares pummeled and when they have been forced to cut their outstanding loans and potential risk as available short-term funding has evaporated.

Socgen said in a statement it was surprised by the decision and challenged the ratings agency's reasoning, adding that its third-quarter results had shown its "capacity to adjust rapidly its management of short and long-term funding needs in the current unfavorable market environment".

In addition, its exposure to crisis-hit nations such as Greece, Italy and Spain was "modest and manageable," the bank said. BNP Paribas and Credit Agricole could not immediately be reached for comment.

BNP and Socgen's shares both dipped close to 4 percent at the market open but recovered to trade up 1.1 percent and 0.8 percent respectively by 1027 GMT as investors weighed the downgrades against steps to boost European banks' liquidity announced by the European Central Bank on Thursday.   Continued...

<p>A man walks past the BNP logo at the entrance of the French BNP Paribas bank headquarters in Paris, March 6, 2009. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer</p>