Banque Nationale de Paris SA's $38 billion bid for Societe Generale SA and Paribas SA was cleared by two of three French regulators, with July 30 set as the target date for final regulatory approval.
France's banking regulatory body, the Comite des Establissements de Credit, headed by Bank of France Governor Jean-Claude Trichet, cleared BNP's sweetened bid late Wednesday. Stock market regulator Conseil des Marches Financiers followed Thursday morning, and approval by a third regulator, the Commission des Operations de Bourses, is expected.
"I think BNP clearly has the advantage," said Philippe Lecoq, who manages $600 million of assets at Ofivalmo, a French investment firm. The deal would create the largest global banking company and the first with more than a trillion dollars of assets.
The French banking regulator has also cleared the SocGen offer. Investors await SocGen's next move.
SocGen made its friendly bid for Paribas on Feb. 1. On March 9, BNP made a hostile bid for both companies. SocGen sweetened its offer for Paribas on June 14, and BNP followed suit on July 1.
On Thursday morning both SocGen and Paribas canceled board meetings scheduled for today, saying they awaited final clearance of BNP's bid. SocGen added that its board was to meet only to consider its response to BNP and not to consider further sweetening of its own bid.
Still, SocGen chief executive Daniel Bouton said Thursday in a radio interview that another, higher bid for Paribas "can't be ruled out," Agence France Presse reported.
Phillippe Ricarte, an analyst at KBC Securities in Paris, said, "Societe Generale could wait until the last minute to react, pushing the closing date into August, when there's no one around, and leaving investors so fed up that they escape this way. I think their logic is to bug BNP all the way."
Shares in all three banks have fallen since BNP's new bid, on concern that BNP would have a hard time implementing its merger, given the hostility of its targets.
BNP chairman Michel Pebereau reiterated in an interview Thursday that his offer wasn't unfriendly. "It was an unsolicited offer, but from the beginning we explained it was friendly one," he said. "We consider we are going to organize an association of the three banks."