* Attempt to reassure shareholders on Emporiki, Geniki units
* C.Agricole CEO says has requested liquidity assistance
* SocGen’s Oudea says Greek exit would be “manageable”
* Both stocks down 35 to 45 pct since Jan. highs (Adds SocGen CEO comments)
By Christian Plumb and Lionel Laurent
PARIS, May 22 (Reuters) - Credit Agricole has renewed a request for the Greek Central Bank to grant its Emporiki unit access to a liquidity facility, which has been made available to some other local banks, the French bank’s chief executive said on Tuesday.
Jean-Paul Chifflet said the request was part of a wider range of measures aimed at reducing its potential exposure to Greece, including 1.6 billion euros ($2.04 billion) in European Central Bank financing for Emporiki.
Credit Agricole has suffered some 6 billion euros in estimated losses related to Emporiki since it acquired the Greek bank in 2006. Analysts have estimated that the bank could take a hit of 5 to 8 billion euros if Greece left the euro zone.
“We have seriously reiterated our request to take advantage of a direct financing line from the Greek Central Bank, via the ELA (emergency liquidity assistance), the public tool of access to banking liquidity,” Chifflet said in prepared remarks at the bank’s annual shareholder meeting.
With Greeks set to vote afresh on June 17 - following an inconclusive May 6 poll - uncertainty over the debt-laden economy’s future is throwing a light on eurozone banks.
Societe Generale Chief Executive Frederic Oudea played down the importance of the French bank’s own Greek subsidiary Geniki and said SocGen could weather any extreme scenario in Greece.
“If the kind of scenario where the eurozone’s structure were to change comes to pass... It would be manageable,” Oudea told SocGen’s annual shareholder meeting. “Disagreeable but manageable.”
SocGen would have a less hefty bill to pay than Credit Agricole if Greece exited the euro, according to research from Deutsche Bank, which estimates Geniki would need 450 million euros capital, while Emporiki would need 5.1 billion euros.
Both SocGen and Credit Agricole scrapped their dividends in 2011 to help bolster their balance sheet and save precious capital. They said on Tuesday they aimed to resume payouts for 2012.
Chifflet, faced with angry questions and some catcalls from shareholders, acknowledged that Greece had been a major drag on the bank’s shares, which are down some 30 percent this year. The shares rebounded 4.7 percent on Tuesday as part of a wider market bounce.
“The Greek crisis has carried a heavy cost for the Credit Agricole group,” he said, recalling that the bank took 2.4 billion euros in Greece-related charges last year. “We’re taking it step by step. We’re cleaning house. We’re preparing for the future. It won’t happen in a single day.”
Chifflet also became the latest French bank CEO to weigh in on how French Socialist President Francois Hollande should implement his promised regulatory crackdown on the sector, saying he opposed Britain’s Vicker’s reform calling for a separation of retail and investment banking activities.
“On the other hand I‘m in favour of a simple rule banning activities recognised as speculative,” he said.
SocGen’s Oudea, also head of the French Banking Federation, had previously said the industry opposed a Vickers-style reform.
But Chifflet’s comment about speculation was also the latest sign that French bankers are trying to get on the same page with Hollande, who said in his inauguration speech that it was time to put “production before speculation.”
Investors at the packed annual meeting in a convention hall beneath the Louvre museum were preoccupied with what they saw as management missteps in Greece as well as stakes in banks in other euro zone trouble spots like Spain and Portugal.
“You’re taking the same road towards failure as Dexia,” said one shareholder, referring to the Franco-Belgian bank which was bailed out by the two nations last autumn.
Another, calling the Emporiki acquisition a “fiasco” and a “bottomless well,” said the bank’s management had to take responsibility for it.
Greek banks have had to use the ELA to obtain much-needed liquidity because many of their loans are no longer good enough collateral for cash from the European Central Bank (ECB).
The Financial Times reported on Monday that the ECB had backed the Greek central bank’s move to provide some 100 billion euros to the country’s banks through the facility.
The Bank of Greece had no immediate comment on the Credit Agricole request, which Chifflet said was made on Sunday. ($1 = 0.7832 euros) (Additional reporting by Matthieu Protard; Editing by James Regan and Elaine Hardcastle)