French bank boss says eurozone crisis has peaked

 

Badouin Prot of BNP Paribas talks to the BBC's Robert Peston

On the official second day of the World Economic Forum here in Davos, I have just interviewed Baudouin Prot, the chairman of BNP Paribas, the huge French bank which is seen as one of Europe's stronger banks.

He had two or three pretty interesting claims to make - though I should say at the outset that not everyone will agree with him.

First he is convinced that the worst of the eurozone crisis is behind us - thanks in part to the massive injection of three-year loans into the eurozone banking system by the European Central Bank, which I have been banging on about for weeks here and which certainly reduces the risks of bank collapses.

He also regards the bloodless coup of the technocrats in Italy, which saw the economist Mario Monti taking over as premier, as a "game changer" - because it introduced credible economic governance to Italy.

That said, he's not saying all dangers are passed. A default by Greece would not be fatal for the eurozone, he said, but would make investors in general more risk averse - so he would prefer default were prevented.

But he reiterated what others have said about the negotiations between the Greek government and its private sector creditors, which is that the banks and other lenders have made all the concessions they can in respect of the terms they can accept for a reduction in what Greece repays them.

Which rather implies that default remains a very real danger.

Second, he is passionately opposed to the desire of the German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the French President Nicolas Sarkozy to introduce a tax on financial transactions.

He said that if introduced in Europe this tax was "only going to damage, isolate and dampen the competitiveness of those economies who create it".

You may say "so what?". After all, he is a banker, so he would say that.

But he is a French banker, so the UK's Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne can cite him as evidence that his own opposition to a European financial transactions tax isn't just "little Britain" prejudice.

Finally, and here I think Mr Osborne and Mr Prot would part company, the BNP chairman is concerned that there is a risk of "overshooting in terms of regulation".

He says that BNP Paribas will comfortably meet the timetable to introduce the new so-called Basel lll requirements for the amount of capital and liquid assets banks have to hold as a buffer against financial shocks.

But he fears other weaker European banks are struggling to do this, and will therefore shrink their lending to achieve the new regulatory ratios - and such a credit crunch would undermine any recovery of the eurozone economy.

You have heard these complaints many times before from bankers, so you may be tempted to dismiss them as self-interested threats ( lower capital and liquidity ratios allow banks to take greater bonus-generating risks).

But, as Mr Prot says, the eurozone won't be finally out of the danger zone till it is growing sustainably again. So any potential setbacks to the resumption of growth should probably not be dismissed too quickly or lightly.

 
Robert Peston Article written by Robert Peston Robert Peston Economics editor

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