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Is Natixis an omen for French banks?

The merger of Caisse d’Epargne’s and Banque Populaire’s investment banks and asset managers opens up the possibility of even more consolidation in France.

Probably no significance was intended in the date chosen by the board of Caisse d’Epargne to give the green light for the merger of its investment banking and asset management businesses with those of Banque Populaire. But the superstitious among its rivals can only have had their anxieties intensified by the date, 06/06/06 – also chosen as the release date for a remake of horror classic The Omen.

The merged business, to be called Natixis, creates a new force in the French investment banking and asset management scenes that analysts and bankers are talking up as a credible challenger to national champions BNP Paribas and Société Générale to the extent that Calyon doesn’t even enter the conversation.

Valued at between €20 billion and €25 billion, Natixis will be comparable in size to the investment banking businesses of BNP Paribas and Société Générale, and its asset management business, with €534 billion of funds under management, will be the largest in France.

Caisse d’Epargne and Banque Populaire have pledged to keep their retail businesses separate but this is because, as mutual banks, they cannot be merged under French law. That does not mean, however, that they will not act in a coordinated fashion.

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