Societe Generale’s loan syndication team had cause to celebrate at the end of last year: For the first time, it earned a spot among the top 10 syndicated lenders in the United States.

By focusing on deals in the utilities, technology, sports, and healthcare sectors, Societe Generale rose 20 spots from the previous year, to 10th, with 29 deals and a 1.2% market share.

In 1998 it was ranked 25th, according to Thomson Financial Securities Data.

The French banking company says it now wants to become the top foreign-owned arranger of syndicated loans in the United States. Last year it was ranked third in this subcategory, behind Credit Suisse First Boston and Deutsche Bank.

“The league tables are validating our overall business strategies and are showing we are on the right track,” said Robert E. Woods, Societe Generale’s head of syndicated lending in the Americas, “and that is very encouraging.”

But it will be hard for the company just to maintain its ranking this year, he said.

The top three syndicated lenders, J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., Bank of America Corp., and Citigroup Inc., hold 66% of the market. With four banking companies each holding 1% to 2% market shares, Mr. Woods said, he wouldn’t be surprised if Societe Generale fell to somewhere between 12th and 15th this year.

That does not mean Societe Generale is giving up. This year, the company said, it expects to do more deals with investment banks like Merrill Lynch and Lehman Brothers, as well as with hybrid banks like Credit Suisse First Boston and Citigroup’s Salomon Smith Barney.

Like Societe Generale, investment banks tend to focus on companies that are new to the loan market, and they are distribution-oriented and cautious about market risk, Mr. Woods said. “We speak the same language, and it is easy for us to work with them,” he said.

Societe Generale is working its way up from being a major lender to being an arranger, Mr. Woods said.

The company has populated its 30-member syndicated loan team with professionals from Citibank, he said. “We have a team here used to being No. 1 in loan syndication.”

The team is using a three-part strategy, he said. One-third of its business last year came from financing projects, largely in the power sector. It was ranked 25th in syndicated U.S. utility loans, according to Thomson Financial Securities Data. Mr. Woods said these deals are project-specific and well secured with collateral.

Some of these loans went to the California utilities that are now in financial distress. However, the idea of these companies’ defaulting is less worrisome to investors than default fears in other sectors because the government is involved.

Another one-third of the business comes from technology and health-care companies. Societe Generale considers itself an issuer of new loans rather than a refinancing shop; it focuses on bringing young companies — typically 10 to 20 years old — to the debt financing market for the first time, Mr. Woods said.

The final one-third of its syndicated loans come from sports finance, commodities, hotels, and gambling interests, and the company plans to increase its activity in the gambling sector this year.

“We were not going to be able to sleep until we achieved a measure of success,” he said. “Not that we’re finished, but we feel that we’ve accomplished something.


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