French bank mulls stake sale in Banque Saudi Fransi

Sources say Credit Agricole has picked JPMorgan to help in a potential sale of its 31% stake

French bank Credit Agricole has picked JPMorgan to advise it on a potential sale of its 31 percent stake in Banque Saudi Fransi, valued at nearly $2.4 billion, sources familiar with the deal said.

Credit Agricole has been selling assets and pulling out of markets such as Greece to meet post-crisis regulations and combat tougher economic conditions, while focusing on activities in France and Italy.

The bank's chief executive Philippe Brassac has left room for acquisitions for its asset manager Amundi but has said Credit Agricole may further streamline its presence in other countries if opportunities arise.

The French lender's move comes as banks around the world are shedding minority stakes in other banks as new global rules mean they now have to hold more capital against those holdings.

The sale would be an opportunity for a foreign buyer to gain a foothold in the kingdom's banking sector, in which 12 commercial lenders share total assets worth around 2.22 trillion riyals ($592 billion).

Banque Saudi Fransi, the kingdom's fourth largest bank by assets, is among at least six banks that pitched for an advisory role on the local mandate for Saudi oil giant Aramco's planned initial public share offering in the kingdom, sources told Reuters last month.

This is the second potential sale of a lender in recent months in Saudi Arabia.

Royal Bank of Scotland is seeking to sell its 40 percent stake in Alawwal Bank, previously called Saudi Hollandi Bank, potentially a deal worth around $1.2 billion, Reuters reported late last year.

Credit Agricole and Banque Saudi Fransi declined to comment, while JPMorgan was not immediately available to comment.

The sources declined to be identified because the details of the deal are not public.

Bloomberg earlier reported that Credit Agricole was weighing the sale of its stake in the Saudi lender.

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