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SocGen issues profit warning on Greek debt

Shares in French bank Société Générale SA hit their lowest point in two and a half years Wednesday, sinking 15 per cent.


Société Générale SA may miss its 2012 profit goals, the French bank acknowledged on Wednesday in second-quarter results that showed the scars of its contribution to a Greek bailout.

France's second-biggest bank said its aim of €6-billion ($8.23-billion) in profit in 2012, reiterated in May this year, would now be "difficult to achieve" because of a tougher economic and financial backdrop.

The bank's shares were down 5 per cent at 0800GMT, recovering slightly after tumbling as markets opened but underperforming the European sector on results that undershot analysts' forecasts.

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The €6-billion ambition had long been doubted by analysts, who were predicting a profit of €5.3-billion for that year, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S Estimates.

"The company finally admitted that it would not meet targets set out in its 2015 plan," a Paris-based trader said. "Analysts didn't believe they would meet the target, but the fact that they were flatly dropped without being revised or tweaked is clearly negative."

The volte-face also comes as economic concerns in the euro zone and the United States worsen, rattling global markets.

Chief executive officer Frederic Oudea pointed to an "uncertain economic and financial environment". In a statement he defended the bank's performance as "solid" given the backdrop and insisted that he remained "confident regarding the continuing growth of our results."

Revenue and profit fell short of analyst expectations, however, after a weak performance in asset management and a tougher quarter than expected in some of its core investment banking activities, including equities trading.

The bank took a €395-million pretax hit on its exposure to Greece because of its contribution to a bailout plan, causing loan loss provisions to grow by 17.3 per cent from a year ago to €1.185-billion.

Peers participating in a private sector rescue package for Greece have also taken a 21 per cent loss on their Greek sovereign bonds maturing by 2020.

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French rival BNP Paribas recorded a €534-million charge related to Greece, denting its profit. This fell below analyst expectations but still grew from a year ago by 1 per cent.

The provision proved harder for Société Générale to absorb, with profit falling 31.1 per cent from the second-quarter of 2010. At €747-million, this was well below the €1.15-billion average estimate from analysts polled by Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

"The results are below consensus, even without the Greek provision," said Alex Koagne, financial analyst at Natixis.

As well as sovereign bond holdings, Société Générale owns Geniki bank in Greece.

The country's debt crisis also caused France's Credit Agricole to warn last week that its own Greek unit, Emporiki would make a loss.

It said it would take a hit of up to €850-million from Greece in the second-quarter when it reports results at the end of August.

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