June 14, 2012 / 4:21 PM / in 6 years

UPDATE 2-Emporiki transfers units' shares to Credit Agricole

* Credit Agricole says all options open

* Bank still hoping for no Greek exit

* Transfer part of bid to isolate ‘non-Greek-law assets’

* Bank could opt to sever ties with Emporiki (Adds additional comment, share background)

By George Georgiopoulos and Christian Plumb

ATHENS/PARIS, June 14 (Reuters) - Greek lender Emporiki, majority owned by French bank Credit Agricole, said on Thursday it was to transfer shares in its Albanian, Bulgarian and Romanian units to its parent, completing a process that started in 2009.

The move was the latest sign Credit Agricole is moving to minimize any impact from a Greek exit from the euro, which analysts have estimated could force a roughly 5 billion euro ($6.3 billion) writedown because of its exposure to Emporiki.

“All the options are open for us but the fact is that the scenario of Greece exiting the euro zone is not our favourite scenario,” a Credit Agricole spokeswoman said.

Emporiki officials declined to elaborate on a news release announcing the move, which came days before a Greek election which could decide whether the swooning southern European economy will remain part of the euro zone.

“This agreement will also allow Emporiki to further rationalise its corporate structure and reinforce its focused efforts to effectively deal with the current circumstances and challenges,” the Greek group said in the statement.

Credit Agricole’s options in the case of a Greek withdrawal include simply severing its ties with Emporiki, as it did with its Argentine unit in 2002. Shifting good assets within the group can only help with that goal.

“It definitely shows they are preparing seriously for an exit, if necessary,” KBW analyst Jean-Pierre Lambert said.

Lambert said in a research note “an exit by Credit Agricole from Emporiki would put a cap on potential losses, avoid it being at the centre of a euro zone storm and free management to focus on the core franchise”.

Credit Agricole shares are down 29 percent this year, hit by concern about Greece as well as concern over a potential regulatory crackdown under newly elected President Francois Hollande.

Another London-based analyst, who asked not to be named, said the move was part of a wider trend of Credit Agricole shifting “non-Greek law assets” out of Emporiki, including a roughly $1.5 billion portfolio of shipping loans the lender was trying to shift to its investment bank.

“They are essentially trying to isolate the genuinely Greek part of Emporiki,” the analyst said. “Obviously all options are open depending on what happens at the weekend.” ($1 = 0.7939 euro) (Reporting by George Georgiopoulos and Christian Plumb; Editing by Dan Lalor)

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