SocGen scraps dividend after rough Q3

Markets Reuters

By Lionel Laurent

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Societe Generale

SocGen, the first French bank to scrap its dividend since regulators unveiled tougher capital requirements earlier this year, reiterated it would plug an estimated 2.1 billion euros ($2.9 billion) shortfall without a capital increase or state help.

Like larger French rival BNP Paribas <BNPP.PA>, SocGen has announced sweeping asset sales to cut debt and soothe jittery investors. It said it had sold 10 billion euros in toxic assets between July and November at a pre-tax cost of 121 million euros.

The toxic asset portfolio, which includes mortgage-backed securities, stood at 18.6 billion euros at the end of October, the bank said.

"We are giving priority to the strengthening of the group's capital," chief executive Frederic Oudea said, adding there would be a significant reduction in bonuses paid to employees at its corporate and investment bank.

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SocGen is cutting debt and selling assets at its investment bank, a crucial driver of profit but one which is struggling amid volatile markets. The division's profit slumped 83.5 percent in the third quarter to 77 million euros, with fixed income especially hard hit by the sovereign crisis.

SocGen said it had raised 4.1 billion euros long-term funding in the third quarter at a spread of 100 basis points.

Third-quarter profit fell 31 percent to 622 million euros, compared with a forecast 858 million in a Reuters poll.

The bank wrote down the value of its Greek debt holdings by 60 percent, in line with what its larger French rival BNP has done. In addition, Societe Generale wrote down the value of some consumer-credit activities by 200 million euros.

SocGen, alongside European banks, is reducing its exposure to euro zone sovereign debt. Between September and October the bank's holdings of peripheral euro area debt fell to 3.43 billion euros, from 3.65 billion. However, holdings of Italian debt rose slightly, to 1.57 billion euros, from 1.55 billion.

SocGen is also exposed to Greece via its local subsidiary Geniki, part of an international retail network that saw profit fall almost 40 percent in the quarter.

SocGen's French retail unit however performed solidly, with profit up 14.7 percent, driven by growth in mortgage lending and signing up new customers.

($1 = 0.727 euro)

(Reporting by Lionel Laurent; Editing by Leila Abboud and Dan Lalor)

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