The French banking company BNP Paribas SA swung back to profit in the fourth quarter of 2009 and raised its dividend by 50%, comfortably beating analyst expectations a year after financial market dislocation plunged it into the red.

The economic crisis took a lighter toll in the quarter. Provisions for future losses dropped sharply from a year earlier and the third quarter of 2009.

Chief Executive Officer Baudouin Prot expressed optimism that the downward trend in loan-loss provisions would continue in 2010.

"I think it will be a more moderate cost," Prot said Wednesday.

He also sought to play down concern about the bank's exposure to crisis-hit Greece, describing it as "limited."

France's largest banking company by market value posted net profit of 1.37 billion euros ($1.9 billion) for the three months that ended Dec. 31. That compares with a 1.37 billion-euro loss reported a year earlier and an average 1.02 billion-euro ($1.4 billion) profit forecast by seven analysts polled by Dow Jones Newswires.

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