FRANCE - BNP Paribas – citing possibilities for cooperation in, amongst other areas, fund management - has bought 10.9% of rival French bank Credit Lyonnais from the French state for 2.2 billion euros. Between them, the banks control 6.3 billion euros in European pension assets.

The move has sparked speculation that BNP Paribas plans to launch a bid for the whole company. The acquisition makes BNP the largest single shareholder in Credit Lyonnais. Loss-making German insurance giant Allianz, via its French subsidiary AGF, has around 10%.

BNP said in a statement that the purchase of the stake would create “possibilities for cooperation between the two groups” in fund management and retail and investment banking.

A BNP spokesman declined to be more specific about the nature of the closer cooperation and whether the purchase of the stake was part of a plan to buy Credit Lyonnais outright.

Credit Lyonnais, for its part, said its management would meet to discuss consequences of the change in its shareholder structure.

BNP Paribas Asset Management has 4.5 billion euros of European pension funds under management. Credit Lyonnais Asset Management has 1.8 billion euros.

The bank outbid three rivals , including Credit Agricole, to buy the stake from the French state. The price of 58 euros a share is a 49% premium on Friday’s closing price of Credit Lyonnais’ shares. The French finance ministry said in a statement that the BNP offer was the best it received.