France could nationalize big companies if necessary: finance minister

PARIS (Reuters) - The French government is prepared to use all means to support big companies suffering in financial market turmoil, including nationalization if necessary, the finance minister said on Tuesday.

Bruno Le Maire’s remarks are the strongest indication yet that Paris is ready to pull out all the stops to steady the country’s biggest companies amid the turbulence unleashed by the coronavirus pandemic.

“I won’t hesitate to use all means available to protect big French companies,” he said on a conference call with journalists.

“That can be done by recapitalization, that can be done by taking a stake, I can even use the term nationalization if necessary,” Le Maire added, without saying which companies could be treated as a priority.

Le Maire also welcomed a decision by France’s financial markets authority to ban short-selling during trading on Tuesday on 92 French stocks and said the measure could be extended up to a month if necessary.

The ban includes some of France's best known companies such as bank BNP Paribas BNPP.PA, carmaker Renault RENA.PA, and airline Air France KLM AIRF.PA, which have all suffered steep losses on equity markets in recent days.

Earlier, Le Maire told RTL radio that the government was mobilizing 45 billion euros ($46 billion) in crisis measures to help companies stay afloat through the virus outbreak, consisting in large part of tax and payroll charge deferrals.

Meanwhile, the government has also pledged to guarantee up to 300 billion euros in total of new loans to companies, which could reduce banks’ potential exposure to loan losses.

Le Maire said the government would shortly present a budget bill to reflect the new economic reality created by the outbreak, and which would be based on a provisional forecast for a 1% contraction in gross domestic product this year.

Reporting by Leigh Thomas; Editing by Alex Richardson and Mark Potter