French Banks Feel Billions in Subprime Mortgage Pain

The U.S.-led mortgage market meltdown continued to exact a toll on the international banking community Tuesday morning, with two of France’s largest banks disclosing multi-billion dollars’ worth of write-downs tied to ongoing woes in mortgage markets stateside. Paris-based Societe Generale, France’s second- largest bank by market value, said fell net income dropped 23 percent to 1.1 billion euros ($1.71 billion) as the bank absorbed write-downs of 1.45 billion euros ($2.24 billion) during Q1, compared to 2.05 billion euros of write-downs one quarter earlier. SocGen has been reeling since its now-infamous disclosure of billions in losses tied one rogue trader in the fourth quarter. Societe Generale also said that its net residual counterparty exposure to monoline insurers actually rose to 800 million euros ($1.23 billion) from 400 million ($618.7 million) at the end of last year. Not to be outdone, fellow French bank Credit Agricole — who stateside cycling fans may know via their eponymous road cycling team, a fixture in the Tour de France — said that it would look to raise capital as losses from U.S. mortgage exposure continued to mount. Ahead of a scheduled earnings report on Thursday, the bank said that profits fell by 24 percent in the first quarter, and that it would look to raise roughly 5.9 billion euros ($9.2 billion) as a result. It absorbed 1.21 billion euros ($1.87 billion) worth of write-downs during the quarter. Speculation was also rampant in the international press that Credit Agricole’s Calyon investment banking arm was set to jettison chief Mark Litzler over subprime-led losses that have hurt the French bank to a greater degree than its main rivals. Bloomberg News first reported on the rumors Monday, and said that neither Calyon nor Credit Agricole would comment on the rumors.

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