PARIS (AFP) – French bank Credit Agricole, one of the biggest European banks by capitalisation, reported a doubling of net profit to 1.0 billion euros ($1.42 billion) in the first quarter, on Friday. The price of shares in the bank showed a gain of 1.40 percent to 11.23 euros in a market up 0.57 percent overall. The outcome, marking an increase of 112 percent from the result 12 months ago, was in line with average estimates of analysts as polled by Dow Jones Newswires. At CM-CIC Securities, analyst Pierre Chedeville commented: "The group is showing its main characteristics again: operating efficiency and an excellent control of charges, very cautious policy for provisioning, and financing and investment activities steady." Bank chief executive Jean-Paul Chifflet said that Credit Agricole's direct exposure to Greek debt was 631 million euros at the end of March. Credit Agricole is one of the few foreign banks to control a Greek bank, in the form of Emporiki bank. Company History:
France's "green bank" was nicknamed for its roots in agriculture. Crédit Agricole, composed of the Caisse Nationale de Crédit Agricole and 90 regional banks, which together own 90% of the Caisse Nationale, is a unique cooperative organization and one of the most important banking groups in France.
In the mid-1800s, it became clear that there was a need for agricultural credit in France, especially after a crop failure in 1856, which left rural areas in dire straits. One of the main causes of low production was a lack of sufficient credit for farmers, who often could not meet banks' normal credit requirements. In 1861, the government attempted to remedy this problem, asking Crédit Foncier to establish a department expressly for agriculture. But the newly formed Societé de Crédit Agricole accomplished little. By 1866, though some steps towards improvement had been suggested, the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War prevented their implementation. The society folded in 1876.
Later, several financial cooperatives sprang up independently among farmers, operating in rural towns on a system of mutual credit. In 1885, the first society for agricultural credit was founded at Salins-les-Bains in the Jura; the maximum amount of credit a farmer could get was FFr500, the price of a yoke of oxen. By the end of the century, when talk of modernizing France's agricultural economy became more urgent, it was decided that this system of localized credit was more suitable for the rural population than credit emanating from a big central bank.
In 1894, the Chamber of Deputies proposed a law to organize personal or short-term rural credit, based on the methods of the small credit societies already in existence. The law formalized the requirements for the societies' formation, made them exempt from taxes, and gave them a monopoly on state-subsidized loans to farmers. In 1897, the Bank of France made funds available to the banks through the minister of agriculture, and in 1899, a law was passed to create regional banks to act as intermediaries between the local societies and the minister of agriculture. The local cooperatives were self-governing societies with limited liability. Their members were mostly individual farmers. Each local cooperative was affiliated with a regional bank, where it transferred all deposits and obtained funds for loans. The local banks elected a committee to control the regional banks, which were mainly responsible for medium- and long-term loans. Thus, the hierarchy of Crédit Agricole was established.
One of the reasons Crédit Agricole was so successful was its reliance on individual farmers. In the mid-1800s most of France's agricultural produce came from small farms rather than large estates, and the French government wanted to preserve the small family farm for several social and economic reasons. For instance, it was widely believed that small farmers cultivated the...