Credit Agricole's first-quarter profit falls as loan provision rise threefold

PARIS (Reuters) - Quarterly profit at Credit Agricole CAGR.PA dropped by a sixth, France's second-biggest listed bank said on Wednesday, as higher trading revenue helped offset a sharp rise in provisions against loan losses linked to the coronavirus crisis.

Net profit in the three months to March slid to 638 million euros ($691 million) from 763 million a year ago. Revenue rose by 7.1% to 5.2 billion euros.

“Our results ... allowed us absorb a multiplication of the cost of risk by three,” Chief Executive Philippe Brassac said in a statement, adding that its risk assumptions were prudent ones.

Provisions against potential loan losses rose to 621 million euros from 225 million a year ago.

That took into account risks related to retail banking, and its corporate portfolios in targeted sectors including tourism, autos and energy, the bank said.

Its revenue from market activities, which are focused on fixed income rather than equity or derivatives trading, rose by 13.7%.

Chief Financial Officer Jerome Grivet said the strong showing reflected the fact that its investment bank’s strategy was geared towards helping its corporate clients to get the financing they need by using the bank’s balance sheet or markets, rather than supplying investors with elaborate investment products.

“(That segment)... is less volatile and exposes us much less than others to the dislocation of the market that we have seen,” Jerome Grivet told journalists.

Its domestic rivals BNP Paribas BNPP.PA and Societe Generale SOGN.PA both reported losses from equity trading in the first quarter.

BNP and SocGen are two of the biggest players in derivatives linked to shares and corporate payouts - both of which have slumped amid the coronavirus crisis, especially in Europe where companies have cancelled dividends.

Jacques Ripoll, head of Credit Agricole’s investment bank, said dividend cancellation had had a 10 million euro negative impact on its revenue.

Credit Agricole's shares were up 0.5% in early morning trading broadly in line with a European banking sector down 0.2% .SX7P.

The bank is to hold a conference call at 1300 GMT, which should be dominated by questions about earnings guidance for 2020, so far not given, analysts at Jefferies said.

Reporting by Maya Nikolaeva and Marc Angrand; Editing by Kim Coghill and John Stonestreet