Societe Generale, France's third-largest bank, said it may sell up to a third of its equity and property holdings in a move analysts said was designed to raise cash for an acquisition.
"When a bank has a relatively high level of equity capital, it is not unwise for it to look at ways of putting that capital to better use," said Michel Thibout, the bank's chief spokesman.
A top Societe Generale official was quoted in a British newspaper saying that the bank's long-range plans include the acquisition of small U.S. and Asian institutions.
Societe Generale, one of France's most profitable banks, has about $4.17 billion in equity investments and another $2.39 billion in property investments. Shedding a third of each portfolio would raise as much as $2.29 billion.
Mr. Thibout did not rule out using the cash for acquisitions to improve the bank's return on equity, which, at 7.70% in 1995, lagged behind the 8.37% posted by Credit Commercial de France, another profitable French lender.
The unrealized gain in the bank's stock portfolio fell from $1.02 billion, or 19.6%, at the end of June, to $624 million, or 12%, at the end of August, bank figures show.
Analysts said the sales would make sense and likely pave the way for Societe Generale to buy another bank. It is bidding an estimated $1.16 billion for a majority stake in CIC, now controlled by the French government. A decision is due by the end of December.
"There's no point in tying up capital in real estate or in a share portfolio when you've got other irons in the fire," said Patrick Louah, a banking analyst with CPR Finance in Paris.
The bank's executives have made no secret of plans to embark on a shopping spree.
Societe Generale's second in command, Daniel Bouton, told a newspaper in the United Kingdom earlier this month that the bank may sell some shares in its industrial portfolio to finance future acquisitions.
Though no major acquisitions are planned soon, Mr. Bouton said, the aim is to purchase small institutions in the United States and Asia.
Asked whether share and property sales were designed to raise cash for purchasing CIC, Mr. Thibout pointed out that a decision on those sales is due next year, when the deadline for committing to such a purchase will have expired.
In the first half, Societe Generale's earnings rose 21%, to $531 million.