A little cricketing truism goes "Everyone scores runs in Antigua. But only Lara breaks records."
BNP Paribas feature in today's news in what at first sight is a fairly banal piece from Bloomberg. The bank, like many peers, is repaying state aid because that aid has "fully achieved its objectives" and, in any case, BNP are doing so well in the "changing environment" that the capital is not needed.
Back in August 2007 the "changing environment" led Baudouin Prot, CEO, to first declare that "As far as the U.S. subprime crisis is concerned, BNP Paribas's exposure is absolutely negligible" and 8 days later have the bank's spokesperson announce that BNP Paribas was freezing three of its negligibly exposed funds due to the "complete evaporation of liquidity in certain market segments of the U.S. securitization market."
Fast forward and under an agreement with the French state to increase domestic lending to the retail sector by 3% to 4% annually BNP took a total of €5.1bn from taxpayers in December 2008 and March 2009. The bank was meanwhile putting aside €1bn for investment banker bonuses which the French central bank said was fine for it did not break any G20 rules.
Enter Fortis, the wreck of a Dutch-Belgian bank the mooted 2008 sale of which to BNP was so contentious it had already brought down one Belgian administration. In March 2009 BNP offered sweetened terms worth an additional €510m to enraged shareholders and also agreed to take a €1.4bn stake in a Belgian insurance unit via Fortis Bank. The deal, worth a total of circa €10.4bn and including some very generous guarantees by the Belgian taxpayer worth €3.5bn to BNP, went through two months later.
Come August 2009 and BNP, batting on the benign, Antigua-like, wicket of artificially low interest rates and asset price recovery thanks to public underwriting and fiscal stimuli, reports a €261m net income contribution from Fortis on top of scoring €815m of negative goodwill ("badwill"?) from the purchase.
Interesting timeline and not bad work. Suspicions from the European Union that the French aid package would end up subsidising the purchase of cheap banking assets abroad (for the banks and the French state always claimed recapitalisation was not needed) have long since died. Repaying French taxpayers will now relieve BNP of its rather modest domestic lending obligation as well as free - or help free depending on the prevailing political requirements - its bonus policy from state interference. Despite that, Monsieur Prot kindly pledged commitment on both counts to toeing the government's line.
If only banks could play in this "changing environment" every week.