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Cablegate: Franch Bankers' Pittsburgh Nightmare

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DE RUEHFR #1251 2581052
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 151052Z SEP 09
FM AMEMBASSY PARIS
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 7144
INFO RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHINGTON DC
RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
RUEHAK/AMEMBASSY ANKARA 1183
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RUEHME/AMEMBASSY MEXICO 0561
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RUEHRH/AMEMBASSY RIYADH 0470
RUEHUL/AMEMBASSY SEOUL 1799
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO 3074

UNCLAS PARIS 001251

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR EEB/IFD/OMA AND EUR/WE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: EFIN ECON PREL FR
SUBJECT: FRANCH BANKERS' PITTSBURGH NIGHTMARE

1. (SBU) Meeting on the anniversary of the Lehman failure, leading
French financiers told Ambassador Rivkin that capital requirements
and accounting rules, rather than compensation, are the critical
issues at the G20 Summit in Pittsburgh. They are fearful that the
G20 will stiffen both capital requirements and "mark-to-market"
accounting rules as the solution to the financial crisis.
BNP-Paribas CEO Baudouin Prot asserted that this combination would
slow world economic growth for years and could stop the current
recovery. AXA CEO Henri de Castries stressed that banks could not
increase capital and boost lending at the same time. He pointed out
that neither raising capital requirements nor applying
mark-to-market addressed the failure of regulators "to do their jobs
properly." While they allowed that higher capital requirements are
probably necessary, they insisted that even a phased approach would
immediately be reflected in bank stock prices, making raising
capital more difficult. Prot said that European bankers supported a
recent letter from the American Bankers Association to Secretary
Geithner urging greater flexibility in mark-to-market rules. He
claimed that the only player opposed to modulating mark-to-market
rules is Goldman Sachs, "and they don't hold any loans." The CEOs
agreed that mark to market requirements were both procylical and
increased volatility while inhibiting anything but short-term and
very high quality instruments. The bankers were also concerned
about moves to focus regulation primarily on leverage ratios.
Credit Agricole CEO Georges Pauget warned about the difficulty of
comparing leverage ratios calculated under different accounting and
market standards. He said the treatment of derivatives in the U.S.
for example, effectively doubled U.S. banks leverage ratios when
cast according to EU standards.

2. (SBU) On financial sector bonuses, the bankers stated that the
essence of the Sarkozy proposals (basing bonuses on bank profit, not
revenue; deferral of half of bonuses to later years, with
"claw-back" provisions if profits prove ephemeral; and payment of
large parts of the deferred payment in stock) stemmed from the
French Banking Federation work on best practices. De Castries said
he the bonus standards were insufficient (and perhaps naove) and
needed to be reinforced by the market. Only if clients insist on
behavioral change will it actually happen - and he said the
insurance and finance conglomerate he leads is now refusing to do
business with financial institutions whose compensation practices
"go against long-term societal interests."

3. (SBU) On the economy, they described the early signs of recovery
around the world as "mechanical," driven by government stimulus
rather than the health of the economy itself. "American consumers
are still not saving enough and Chinese savers are still not
consuming enough," one observed. The French economy has not been as
badly hit thanks to a high consumer savings rate, low household debt
and relatively less real estate market movement in recent years.
Rothschild banker Gerard Worms stressed, however, that the French
government deficit has jumped very sharply and will likely stay high
"for years" and a number of basic economic reforms, including of
labor markets, need to be carried further.

4. (SBU) Comment: French financiers feel vindicated by their
comparatively strong performance over the last year in the face of
global turmoil. The group meeting the Ambassador (which also
included JPMorgan and the Caisse des Depots) were genuinely
concerned about a G20 outcome that cut the financing available for
growth while increasing market volatility. Their concerns seem in
line with US views going into the London G20 Summit on the priority
to recovery and growth rather than the EU focus on regulation.

RIVKIN

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