PARIS — BNP Paribas, France's largest bank, agreed to buy the French government's 10.9% stake in Credit Lyonnais for $2.2 billion, setting up what may be a takeover battle for the country's sixth-biggest bank.
Credit Agricole, France's No. 2 bank, owns 10.5% of Credit Lyonnais, and Chief Executive Jean Laurent said in September he wants closer links with Credit Lyonnais.
In a statement, BNP Paribas said buying the government's holding will allow for "the possibilities for cooperation between the two groups" in consumer banking, investment banking and fund management.
BNP Paribas Chairman Michel Pebereau said in May that the company plans to spend as much as $9 billion in the next four years for acquisitions in Europe and the U.S.
It already has spent more than $10 billion on takeovers since 1999, including the purchases of French securities firm Paribas and two banks in California, including Los Angeles-based United California Bank.
BNP Paribas has said it wants to "reinforce" its consumer banking business on the U.S. West Coast, where it ranks as California's No. 4 lender. "In no case will we sacrifice profitability just for the desire to be bigger," Pebereau said in May.
Paris-based BNP Paribas will pay $58 a share for the Credit Lyonnais stake, 49% above where the bank's stock closed Friday. The transaction needs approval from banking regulators.
Credit Agricole spokeswoman Marie-Aude Dubanchet declined to say whether the bank made a bid for the Credit Lyonnais stake. But the Finance Ministry said in a statement that BNP Paribas' offer was "much better than the other candidates."