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Greece: Crédit Agricole Shareholders Shaking in Boots

Translated Monday 4 June 2012, by Gene Zbikowski and reviewed by Derek Hanson

The accumulation of bad debts linked to Greece is a financial burden for the banks that own part of the country’s debts. First and foremost Crédit Agricole, whose share price on the stock exchange has plummeted as a payment default approaches and Europe speculates on Greece exiting the euro zone.

“The Greek crisis is painfully costly to the Crédit Agricole group,” according to Jean-Paul Chifflet, the bank’s director general, who added that the cost amounted to 2.4 billion euros in 2011. This is because Crédit Agricole SA (CASA) bought Emporiki in 2006, a Greek bank that a CASA shareholder has described as a “fiasco” and a “bottomless pit.” CASA also purchased goodly shares of the sovereign debts of Spain and Portugal. “You’re going down the same road to ruin as Dexia,” a shareholder said, alluding to the 1.47-billion-euro loss made by the bank in 2011.

Among Crédit Agricole shareholders, the watchword is “each man for himself and the devil take the hindmost!” Today, the shares are worth so little (3 euros) that the general assembly organized at the Carrousel du Louvre [1] on May 22 was held in a frankly stormy ambiance. The shares have lost one-third of their value since the beginning of the year, after having plummeted by 54% in 2011.

The panic concerns Greece’s possible exit from the euro, which would effectively prove to be disastrous for Crédit Agricole and a handful of other European banks, which would lose billions in the affair – at least 5 billion euros just for CASA’s Greek subsidiary. But the Greeks don’t want this exit from the euro that’s on everybody’s lips. And as no “user’s manual” has been written or even imagined, it’s hard to see how the euro zone could throw out a member country without the country’s consent.

The Greeks don’t want to leave the euro zone.

On this subject, Jacques Généreux, an economist and the Parti de Gauche’s national secretary for economic questions, expressed himself quite clearly on the France Inter radio network on the morning of May 22. Généreux did a good job of explaining that the euro is not responsible for the crisis. According to Généreux, the problem for Greece (as for France) is a problem of revenue and of sharing the wealth, linked to vulnerability to vampire-capitalist speculation. Exiting the euro would simply mean a default on payment, which would cost the French banks (including Crédit Agricole) 100 billion euros and would engender great instability and inflation in Greece. But above all, he said, “Greece will not exit the euro because the Greeks don’t want to.”

[1translator’s note: an underground shopping mall in Paris that includes a congress hall

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