France's Societe Generale may exit Australia

SYDNEY: French bank Societe Generale on Monday said that it was considering pulling out of Australia and was in discussions with regulators regarding its banking licence.

Australian branch chief executive John Harvey said no decision had yet been made but that a total exit was "clearly on the agenda", adding that the bank was in talks with the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA).

"We are in regular dialogue with APRA and their position is that we retain our branch banking licence whilst Societe Generale continues to conduct banking operations in Australia," Harvey said, Dow Jones Newswires reported.

"There is no official close date as we continue to operate substantial businesses in treasury and equipment finance," he added.

The bank, one of the top French banks with strong international activities, has already transferred some staff to Hong Kong and moved its interest rates and foreign exchange business to the Chinese territory.

"There will be further reductions over the course of 2010," Harvey said.

Societe Generale last week warned that fourth-quarter results would be weaker than investors had expected, owing to risks linked to the US housing market.

It said it would only make a slight profit in the last quarter of 2009 because of a charge of 1.4 billion euros (2.0 billion dollars) for assets considered at risk.