Societe Generale’s investment bank limits first-quarter profit plunge

French bank Societe Generale reported second quarter results for 2023.

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French bank Societe Generale reported a smaller-than-expected 22% slide in first-quarter net income on Friday, as profits on equity derivative sales offset more weakness at its retail bank and in fixed-income trading.

France’s third-biggest listed lender, whose CEO Slawomir Krupa is seeking to end several years of lackluster performance and trim costs, said group net income over the first three months of the year was 680 million euros ($729.30 million).

This was down 22% from a year earlier but still beat the 463 million-euro average of 15 analyst estimates compiled by the company.

Sales slipped 0.4% to 6.65 billion euros, above the 6.46 billion-euro analyst average estimate.

Helped by euro zone interest rates remaining higher for longer than expected, many European banks have beaten expectations for the first-quarter, and some have raised profit targets for the year.

French banks including SocGen have not benefited as much from the rise in rates because of the high cost of deposits in the country. Their shares have underperformed, although analysts expect the lenders to do better when rates fall.

SocGen’s investment banking division saw its earnings jump 26.4% to 690 million euros, beating forecasts, while revenues weakened 5.1% to 2.62 billion euros for the quarter.

Equity derivatives sales, an area where SocGen has historically been strong, did well, the bank said, as did corporate financing services and its advisory business.

Hedging policy

This offset a 17% fall in sales from trading in fixed income and currencies, underperforming the average of Wall Street firms and French rival BNP Paribas. Deutsche Bank delivered a 7% rise in fixed income and currencies trading revenue.

SocGen said it continued to suffer from a costly hedging policy aimed at protecting the bank against low rates but which backfired. It cost SocGen 300 million euros in the first quarter, on top of 1.6 billion euros in 2023.

The bank no longer reports numbers for its French retail activities, more crucial to its earnings than for BNP Paribas, as a standalone business.

SocGen said the transfer from sight deposits to regulated savings account with a fixed interest rate weighed on its results.

According to a recent study by UBS, French deposits were the most expensive in Europe when rates were negative. But they increased in cost just as quickly as the European average when rates and inflation rose.

SocGen stock price evolution has trailed peers over the last three years, with shares up 9%, compared with a rise of 26% for BNP and 13.5% for Credit Agricole. The basket of STOXX Europe 600 banks has risen by 55% over the period.

Krupa, who took over just a year ago, disappointed investors last September by putting off a key profitability target by a year, amid stagnating sales, until 2026.

He has pledged to revive shares by trimming costs and delivering on targets, while selling non-core assets and investing to deploy its online bank BoursoBank and its expanded car-leasing listed group Ayvens.

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