France ready to protect big companies through nationalisation

Bloomberg Paris | Updated on March 17, 2020 Published on March 17, 2020

Bruno Le Maire, France's finance minister (File photo)   -  Bloomberg

France is ready to use the ultimate weapon to protect its biggest companies from the market turmoil set in motion by the coronavirus: nationalisation.

The country’s Finance Minister, Bruno Le Maire, said the national could intervene using any means to protect the largest companies that have been attacked on the markets. He made the comments as he briefed journalists on a 45 billion euro ($49.9 billion) emergency spending splurge to shelter businesses and workers threatened by the impact of the virus outbreak.

“I will not hesitate to use all the means available to me to protect big French companies,” Le Maire said. “That can be capitalisation, that can be by taking stakes, I can even use the term nationalization if necessary.”

France brandishing the possibility of nationalisation is an about-turn from a few weeks ago when the state was continuing with plans for privatizations. Le Maire had repeatedly said it was not the State’s business to get involved in non-strategic sectors of the economy.

Disruptions due to coronavirus

The coronavirus disruptions have sent financial markets into turmoil, with Wall Street stocks suffering their biggest plunge since 1987 on Monday after US President Donald Trump warned of a possible recession. The shutdown of swathes of the worlds economy, with travel bans and workers confined at home, has also triggered a meltdown in global fuel demand.

In France, the CAC40 index is down 37 per cent since the beginning of the year.

Nationalisations and recapitalisations could involve delicate and complex negotiations with other nations. The Dutch and French governments have already discussed a recapitalisation of Air France-KLM, but any move must be coordinated so that the two states are not diluted, a person familiar with the discussions said.

Italy has stepped up efforts to keep bankrupt Alitalia afloat, with a new 600 million euro loan under discussion as part of a plan to re-nationalize the carrier.

Le Maire said France is also ready to intervene in other ways to calm markets. He said the AMF stock market regulators decision to ban the short selling of 92 stocks in Tuesday’s session is good and necessary, but that France is ready to go further by banning short selling for a month.

“We stand ready to take stronger decisions if necessary. We want to avoid speculation on markets.”

Published on March 17, 2020
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