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France's No. 3 Bank Takes Bigger Piece of Thomson

PARIS: France’s third largest bank bumped its ownership of Thomson up above 5 percent, according to wire reports. The company’s stock appeared to react, moving from less than 50 cents on Monday up near 80 cents by Wednesday morning.

Societe Generale holds nearly 6 percent of Thomson’s voting stock, up from less than 5 percent it held previously. Societe Generale, which received $11.9 billion in U.S. bailout money via AIG, received notoriety a year ago when one of its junior employees perpetrated a $7 billion loss on fraudulent trades.

Thomson, struggling under heavy debt and substantial losses, has been entreating the French government for bail-out assistance since late last year. Reports emerged last week that government official said the company would deal with its debt before it would received assistance.

Thomson warned in January of breaching loan covenants, which could come as early as next month, triggering early repayment. The Grass Valley and digital signage businesses were offered for sale in January, though no potential buyers have been identified. The two businesses generated combined revenues of $1.3 billion for Thomson in 2008.

Thomson posted a net loss of $2.4 billion for 2008, compared to a loss of $33.8 million in 2007. The spread was partly due to a $2 billion write-down on goodwill and restructuring. Dividends were suspended in 2007 and remain suspended.

The company ended the year with net debt of around $2.66 billion and $973 million in cash, and estimated it would need around $316 million to continue managing operations. – Deborah D. McAdams