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Banque Indosuez brings WI Carr firmly under its wing

 

BANQUE Indosuez has moved to strengthen its hold on its securities arm WI Carr by renaming it Indosuez WI Carr Securities, sending a strong message that it has no intention of selling-off the regional stock-broking firm, top bank executives said.

Christian Maurin, chairman and CEO of Banque Indosuez, and Jean-Claude Gruffat, chairman of Indosuez Group in the Asia-Pacific region, said the French banking group, now wholly owned by Credit Agricole, intends to further integrate Indosuez WI Carr into its merchant banking activity in the region.

''We've changed the name to show everybody that we do not intend to sell WI Carr," Maurin said.

It would have represented a big miscalculation for Banque Indosuez to part with the securities business at a time when French banks are jockeying to build up their securities presences in this economically fast-growing region.

For instance, Banque Paribas recently concluded a deal to acquire Asia Equity's Hong Kong office from Securities One Plc. Credit Lyonnais has already developed an established regional brokerage franchise.

Both Maurin and Gruffat, who are currently in town to participate in the 100th anniversary of Banque Indosuez's presence in Thailand, painted a bright outlook for the region in equity trading, initial public offering issues and privatisation.

Indosuez WI Carr Securities presently ranks among the top three brokers in Asia, covering more than 1,200 listed companies through its 13 offices in the region. In Thailand, it is still developing a working relationship with Nava Finance & Securities Plc in spite of Nava's ambition to become a regional player through its acquisition of the Standard Chartered Securities franchise.

Following talks with Bank of Thailand officials yesterday, Maurin said Banque Indosuez has expressed confidence in Thailand's medium and long term outlooks because the government has moved to tighten fiscal and monetary discipline in order to bring macroeconomic instability under control.

In the short term, both Maurin and Gruffat said Thailand needs to muddle through by tackling problems in the sagging real-estate sector. They suggested it may be necessary for all those involved to tackle the real-estate problems once and for all if they can afford to instead of following the bad experience of France by allowing the real-estate problems to continue to grow and undermine confidence in the economy.

Following its friendly merger with Credit Agricole, which last year moved to raise its stake in Banque Indosuez from 53 per cent to 100 per cent, Banque Indosuez is to focus its operations as a specialised bank, dealing with in- stitutions, corporations, international businesses and international financial markets, Maurin said.

In the process, he added, Credit Agricole, which is one of the world's largest banking groups, has transferred all of its international business and operations, such as branches in New York, London, Hong Kong and a dealing room in Paris, to Banque Indosuez, which is also taking over the staff from the parent firm.

Credit Agricole maintains the largest domestic franchise in France, with 8,000 local branches and a 24 per cent market share in individual loans and deposits.

It enjoys a AA1 rating by Moody's and a AA rating by Standard & Poors, with $20 billion (Bt520 billion) in net equity, $25 billion in shareholder funds and $350 billion in consolidated total assets.

Gruffat said Banque Indosuez is presently satisfied with its geographical coverage in the Asia-Pacific, which is now generating about 30 per cent of the group's global business. Its most profitable branches are in Singapore, Hong Kong and Bangkok, and the bank's Asian network has expanded with the launch of an Indonesian subsidiary, the opening of an offshore banking branch office in Labuan, Malaysia, and the establishment in Guangzhou of its third Chinese branch.

Banque Indosuez in Thailand is headed by Chaktip Nitibhon, who is running the group's most profitable operation in the Asia-Pacific.

In India, the bank's representative office in Delhi is about to be upgraded into a full branch, and a Moscow office is to be launched soon.

Maurin is also considering expanding Banque Indosuez's presence in the US by increasing its distribution network with institutional clients and focusing on the businesses that it knows best.

 

BY THANONG KHANTHONG

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