BNP Paribas doubled third-quarter net profit on the back of a bond-trading rebound and a drop in euro zone losses, helping it meet balance-sheet targets ahead of schedule despite the economic slowdown.
France's No. 1 bank said it had completed its plan to slim down its balance sheet and boost capital under tougher Basel III rules, effectively turning the page on the turbulent summer of 2011 that saw French banks scramble to sell assets after investors dumped their shares.
BNP's closely watched Basel III solvency ratio stood at 9.5 percent on September 30, BNP said on Wednesday, a fresh high that put it ahead of rivals like UBS and Bank of America sooner than expected.
The bank's focus is now on broader cost cuts as Europe's economic slowdown deepens, with its domestic retail division seen as ripe for change, BNP's chief executive told Reuters Insider television.
"We have a very good, strict risk control and we are also working quite efficiently on the cost base," Jean-Laurent Bonnafe said. "We are adapting the (French retail) model."
BNP's third-quarter net profit more than doubled to 1.32 billion euros ($1.69 billion) from 541 million in the same period a year ago. The mean of 10 analyst estimates was 1.18 billion, according to a Reuters poll.
Revenue fell 3.4 percent to 9.69 billion euros. The mean estimate in the poll was 9.31 billion.
Like rivals across the industry, BNP benefited from central bankers' moves to spur growth and promises to keep the euro zone from breaking apart, which buoyed trading in the third quarter.
The bank has also lifted its balance-sheet strength over the past year by cutting staff, costs and its exposure to peripheral euro zone economies like Greece. This time last year, BNP took hefty losses on its Greek sovereign debt portfolio as part of an agreement with global lenders.
However, with even core European economies like France struggling to lift growth and bring unemployment down, BNP's traditional retail-banking "cash cow" is weakening. French retail revenue fell 2 percent, testament to bankers' views that domestic branch networks are ripe for cutbacks.
($1 = 0.7812 euros)
(Editing by James Regan)