Daniel Bouton, the Société Générale chief, insisted the French bank had an independent future as it launched a €5.5bn ($7.97bn) rights issue to repair the damage done by the financial industry’s biggest rogue trading scandal.
Mr Bouton made clear his bank’s priority was ensuring a successful rights issue before considering strategic issues in his first international newspaper interview since the bank was obliged to disclose €4.9bn of losses because of the trading scandal and writedowns linked to the US subprime market.
“Questions about the longer-term future might be discussed later,” he said at the bank’s headquarters in Paris on Monday. Appearing weary but at times defiant, the chairman and chief executive declined to comment on takeover rumours but said the bank “is not a takeover target per se”.
Investor reaction to the fully underwritten rights issue is seen as a bellwether of confidence in the company at a time when the banking sector has been hit by the US subprime crisis.
SocGen said it expected net profit of €947m in 2007 but warned that in 2008, the first half would be affected by poor market conditions. But the bank pledged to return to growth by 2010 and offered investors the right to buy one share for every four held at a price of €47.50 each.
The price represents a discount of 38.9 per cent to the closing share price on Friday and a 70 per cent reduction on the average 12-month price. “It is not the best market conditions to have a rights issue,” said Mr Bouton. However, it was unclear whether investors considered the price a bargain, even with the steep discount.
“It is only cheap if you believe in the takeover speculation,” said one leading shareholder.
However, SocGen’s unusual shareholding structure may bar a hostile takeover. Shareholders’ voting rights are capped at 15 per cent unless they own 50.01 per cent of the company.
Shares in SocGen edged 3.6 per cent lower to €74.10.
The rights issue is guaranteed by lead managers JPMorgan and Morgan Stanley, with Merrill Lynch and Credit Suisse as co-bookrunners.
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