Belgium has reduced its shareholding in French financial services group BNP Paribas by selling shares worth €2.17bn, reported Reuters

SFPI-FPIM, a Belgian government-backed investment company, placed 33 million shares in the bank following an accelerated sale earlier this week. 

Shares of BNP Paribas were marketed at €64.96 apiece by investment banks.

SFPI-FPIM, whose shareholding in the bank fell to 5.1% from 7.8%, said the divesture was part of its efforts to reduce its exposure to the financial services industry. 

“Following the transaction, SFPI-FPIM confirms its continued support of BNP Paribas and belief in the long-term strategy of the company,” the government-backed entity was quoted by the news agency as saying. 

The investment firm has agreed not to further dilute its shareholding in the bank for a period of 90 days.

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The divesture comes as bank valuations rise on the back of soaring interest rates, following years of poor returns, giving governments a chance to sell their stake in banks they bailed out during the financial crisis.

Following the rescue of the Belgian financial services business Fortis, Belgium acquired a stake in BNP Paribas.

In 2008, Belgium acquired Fortis in a €9.4bn deal and it sold 75% of it to BNP Paribas in exchange for the bank’s shares.

Fortis got into trouble just before the credit crunch and the world financial crisis. It spent €24bn to purchase the Netherlands operations of ABN AMRO.