Banque Paribas' U.S. Chief Sees Niches Growing Bigger

For Philippe Blavier, the newly appointed chief executive officer of Banque Paribas in North America, coming back to the United States is like a rerun of an old movie.

When he first came to this country, in 1981, "the boom was ending and the bust was just beginning," Mr. Blavier recalled.

People overreacted in that recession and are doing so again, he said.

"Americans have a tendency to go to extremes," he said. "They get swept away by either optimism or pessimism."

Mr. Blavier displays only moderation. As a top expert in commodity-related financing, especially oil and gas, for the big French banking group, he is accustomed to taking the ups and downs of a volatile market in stride.

Key Business Strategy

Hedging against market risks, in fact, is Mr. Blavier's business, and also a big part of the Paribas strategy in the United States.

Barely two months into his new job, the 46-year-old banker is busy reorganizing operations with the aim of making Paribas a major player in project finance, oil and gas finance, and commodity hedging.

"We take a niche approach to banking in the U.S., and commodity and project finance is an area where we have an advantage in expertise," Mr. Blavier said.

But in Paribas' niches there is ample room to expand, he said.

"Big energy consumers, like airlines, need to hedge their fuel supplies so they can plan their budgets. But very few companies in the industrialized countries, probably no more than between 2% and 5%, are now hedging against price movements," he said.

"If that percentage increases only slightly, it means big business."

One deal of which Mr. Blavier is particularly proud is an oil-price swap the bank arranged last year for the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transportation Authority.

Specialized Swap Arranged

The deal permitted the authority to swap a floating rate for diesel fuel deliveries into a fixed rate in time to plan its 1991 budget.

A similar transaction for heating fuel has been arranged for the San Francisco municipal government.

Mr. Blavier, who was born in Paris, gained much of his expertise during a five-year term at the Paribas agency in Houston, where he arrived in 1981 shortly after joining the bank.

Before that, he spent 11 years in New York and Paris for Chase Manhattan Bank, which he joined after a brief stint with Banque Nationale de Paris.

Tall, thin, and slightly stooped, Mr. Blavier confesses to running a respectable marathon -- he declines to reveal his running time -- and to harboring a passion for Italian food and opera.

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