Financial Guaranty Insurance Co. said yesterday it has received approval from French authorities to underwrite financial guaranty insurance and open a branch office in France.

The move makes FGIC, which already has an office in London, the second U.S. municipal bond insurer to establish a presence in France. Municipal Bond Investors Assurance Corp. opened an office in Paris in 1991.

Authorization from the French Ministry of Finance allows FGIC to develop a presence in France's asset securitization and public finance credit enhancement arenas, the company said in a statement.

FGIC said it has also revamped its management structure for handling overseas operations, instituting a "country manager" reporting system for various regions of the globe.

Under the system, Philippe Jouan, a FGIC director, will be the country manager for France, with additional responsibility for Spain. He works out of FGIC's office in London. The company has not decided whether it will open an office in Paris.

FGIC said Jouan will work closely with AXA, a French insurance company that has an agreement with FGIC to develop credit enhancement opportunities in France.

Susan Hallman will be the country manager for the United Kingdom, with additional responsibility for Scandinavia, and Michael Slattery will cover FGIC's Japanese operations.

"We have spent the last several years building important relationships with our clients and investment bankers" overseas, said Ann Stern, FGIC's chairman and chief executive officer. "With our new country manager structure, we are well positioned to take advantage of opportunities that may arise in both public finance and structured finance going forward."

The country managers will report to Vernon M. Endo, managing director for structured finance, and to Francisco L. Borges, managing director for public finance.

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