* Shares reach highest level since July 2011
* Analysts eye similar structure at Credit Agricole
* Asset management acquisitions possible
By Christian Plumb
PARIS, Feb 18 Shares in Natixis rose
as much as 24 percent on Monday, a day after the French
investment bank said it would simplify its finances by selling
its stake in the network of cooperative lenders which controls
it, paving the way for higher dividends.
The bank, rescued in the financial crisis in 2009 through a
government-backed merger of its retail cooperative parents, has
since been undergoing a gradual restructuring aimed at selling
off risky assets.
The sale of the 20 percent stake in the regional savings
banks controlled by the BPCE group will trigger a 2 billion-euro
($2.7 billion) special dividend later this year. It should also
boost Natixis's regulatory capital under Basel III solvency
rules, analysts said.
"The transaction makes financial sense via improvement in
efficiency and profitability and simplification of group
structure while returning significant capital to shareholders,"
Citi analysts said.
Natixis's share price was up 24 percent at 3.52 euros by
1050 GMT, the highest level since July 2011, with volumes triple
the 90-day average.
Some analysts said the sale could also put pressure on
larger rival Credit Agricole, which has a similar 25
percent stake in its own allied group of savings banks, to do
"It is safe to say it's a direct challenge to Credit
Agricole," said Yannick Naud, a portfolio manager at Glendevon
King Asset Management in London.
But some others poured cold water on such talk, citing key
differences between the two groups' structures and the fact that
the regional banks that Credit Agricole owns a stake in are more
profitable than the BPCE banks.
"If Credit Agricole did something similar their earnings
would fall 17 percent," said Exane analyst Guillaume Tiberghien.
Natixis will unload the stake by selling 12 billion euros in
investment certificates through which it owned a fifth of
Banques Populaires and Caisses d'Epargne.
The certificates will then be cancelled. BPCE will remain a
72 percent stakeholder in Natixis.
BPCE and Natixis plan to unveil a new three-year strategic
business plan in the second half of the year, Natixis executives
Natixis also reported a 40 percent drop in fourth-quarter
net income to 181 million euros - hit by accounting adjustments
on the value of its own debt - and said it would pay out a
regular dividend of 10 euro cents a share.
Longer term, the sale of the BPCE certificates will also
clear the way for Natixis to regularly pay out dividends of
around 50 percent of earnings starting with those from 2013.
Natixis's chairman Francois Perol said in a conference call
on Sunday that the restructuring could eventually clear the way
for acquisitions by its asset management arm, which has 591
billion euros of assets under management as of year-end.
Natixis's other main businesses are corporate lending and
specialised financial services like consumer credit.
(Editing by Greg Mahlich)