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Société Générale: Best foot forward

It’s growing in areas such as equity derivatives, Africa and digital banking. But is this enough to make up for the poor performance in French retail banking?

To say that a bank whose shares fell by almost a third last year had a good 2018 would be a stretch. But monetary policy and political problems are outside Société Générale’s control.

France no longer appears the liberal beacon it briefly became after the 2017 election of president Emmanuel Macron. Countrywide protests over a fuel tax rise among other issues have weakened the scope for market-friendly reform in France.

SocGen’s shares underperformed European banks’ as a whole by about 7% in the 12 months to mid December, according to Berenberg. But shares in BNP Paribas – its closest French rival, which it underperformed markedly in 2017 – did worse than SocGen in 2018, underperforming European peers by 14%.

In fact, SocGen made some positive steps forward in what was the first year of its new strategic plan. In June, it announced a $1.3 billion settlement with agreements with French and US regulators over a Libyan bribery case and Libor rigging.

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