BNP bank predicts lower bad debt charges as profit rises
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French bank BNP Paribas forecast a drop in bad debt charges despite uncertainty clouding the global finance sector. Chief Executive Baudouin Prot (pictured) said he was upbeat as BNP posted a fourth quarter net profit of 1.365 billion euros.
REUTERS - France’s biggest listed bank BNP Paribas forecast a drop in bad debt charges and was upbeat on its prospects for 2010 despite the economic uncertainty clouding the global finance sector.
“I remain quite confident about this year,” Chief Executive Baudouin Prot told reporters on Wednesday as BNP posted a forecast-beating fourth quarter net profit of 1.365 billion euros ($1.87 billion).
Profits were boosted by lower-than-expected bad debt provisions and higher earnings at its investment banking arm and recently acquired Fortis retail bank.
Its profit rose 4.6 percent from the previous quarter and swung back from a big year-ago loss. Group revenues came in slightly below forecasts at 10.06 billion.
The bank’s dividend rose to 1.50 euros a share from 1 euro.
Global markets have been rocked in recent weeks over fears of the economy of Greece, which is grappling with a trade deficit, but Prot said BNP had a relatively small exposure to Greece.
BNP shares closed up 3.96 percent at 51.15 euros, among the best performers on France’s benchmark CAC-40 index which rose 1.5 percent. BNP was France’s best-performing bank stock last year, rising 90 percent.
“It was a reassuring set of results and it proves the solidity of their business model,” said Hixance Asset Management fund manager Stephane Chossat, who holds BNP shares.
JP Morgan kept an “overweight” recommendation on BNP while Oddo Securities maintained an “accumulate” rating on the stock, which was at its highest level since early February.
BNP Paribas is the first of France’s top banks to post fourth-quarter results with the sector still weighed down by writedowns on toxic assets, the debt woes of Greece and a political backlash against bankers’ bonuses.
Rival Societe Generale, which issued a profit warning last month, publishes results on Thursday while Credit Agricole and BPCE report next week.
The global banking sector has so far seen a mixed set of figures, with higher profits at Barclays, Credit Suisse and JP Morgan contrasting with losses at Citigroup and Bank of America and client withdrawals at UBS.
European bancassurance group ING posted a bigger-than-expected fourth-quarter loss of 712 million euros on Wednesday although, like BNP, ING had a smaller-than-expected loan-loss provision.
Like many banks around the world, France’s lenders have come under political pressure to make moderate bonus payments. France has also joined Britain in imposing a tax on the bonuses of traders.
Prot said BNP had set aside 500 million euros overall for its 2009 bonus payout and added that its bonus payments were lower than many of its peers. The average 2009 bonus payout for BNP Paribas traders stood at 125,000 euros.
Prot said BNP’s 2009 compensation-to-revenue ratio within its investment banking division stood at 27.7 percent down from 40 percent last year.
By contrast, Barclays said on Tuesday that its compensation ratio stood at 38 percent while Deutsche Bank’s stood at 40 percent.
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