Until the 80s, the French government was controlling a large number of companies in sectors as varied as industry, finance and infrastructure. Almost 35 years ago, this heritage began to shrink under the influence of economic policies implemented by both right-wing and left-wing governments. This wave of privatisations, which paused in recent years, resumed with the arrival of the operator of France's national lottery games "La Française des Jeux" on the stock market. The public authority still directly controls a portfolio of listed companies through l'Agence des participations de l'Etat (The French State Investment Agency), but its size is tending to decrease.
The privatisation movement began under the government of Prime Minister Jacques Chirac in 1986, with the IPO of the already 300-year-old Saint-Gobain group. For the State, privatization consists in reselling part of the capital of a company to private actors. The aim is to recover cash, but also sometimes to entrust the task of restructuring a company to others.
If we look at the trend of privatisations accompanied by an IPO in France, the results are rather mixed. Thus, the stock market performance of companies introduced before 1997 is generally good compared to the CAC40. The top of the class being Total, but BNP Paribas or even TF1 not deserving. Air France or Eramet, on the other hand, disappoint investors. Subsequently, there are sometimes large performance gaps, such as Orange, which reached the top during the Internet bubble before falling sharply, or Alstom, which almost went bankrupt.
Since 2005, under Prime minister Lionel Jospin's government, the State has relinquished responsibility for matters that have not been very successful since then. These privatisations indicate a good "market-timing" for the State, but not for savers. This period was marked by the disappointing performance of Electricité de France. There is also Engie (ex-Gaz de France) or Suez. This much more diffuse period of privatization left its mark on people's minds because only Aéroports de Paris (ADP Group) outperformed the Parisian index.
From now on, the listed portfolio in France managed by the Agence des Participations de l'Etat includes twelve companies with the entry of the latest one, La Française des Jeux, privatised in November 2019.
But the agency does not manage all the State's shareholdings. Around 30% of the holdings are held by other public bodies, mainly Caisse des Dépôts, Bpifrance and entities such as the CEA and CNES. For example, government securities in Nexans or STMicroelectronics are held within Bpifrance, while those of Compagnie des Alpes or Icade are held by CDC.
It should be noted that Dexia, which has been present in the portfolio for years, is no longer part of it because it was delisted at the beginning of December 2019: this did not have much impact on the valuation of the portfolio, because the former Crédit Local de France, after its bankruptcy in 2008, was no longer worth much.