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BNP Paribas struggles for growth in low interest rate environment

France's biggest bank, BNP Paribas, posted a narrow increase in net profit on Thursday, as its retail bank struggled in the low interest-rate environment.

Net profit came in at 2.56 billion euros ($2.83 billion) for the second quarter of 2016, up 0.2 percent on the second quarter of 2015. Quarterly revenue was up 2.2 percent.

However, gross operating income in its domestic retail business was down 4.5 percent on the same quarter a year earlier.

"It is true that the low interest rates weigh on our domestic market," Lars Machenil, BNP Paribas's chief financial officer, told CNBC on Thursday after the results were out.

The European Central Bank cut the main interest rate for the euro zone — of which France is a member — to 0.0 percent from 0.05 percent in March. This was an attempt to fend off the specter of growth-sapping deflation.

The bank's corporate and institutional banking (CIB) division performed well. Its revenue was up 1.4 percent on the second quarter of 2015, despite the "very challenging market environment" at the beginning of 2016.

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MICHEL GANGNE | AFP | Getty Images

"When you look at the CIB business, you are overall looking at some improvement," Machenil told CNBC.

The bank posted an 11.1 percent increase on the previous quarter in its Basel 3 CET1 ratio, which measures core equity capital total risk-weighted assets and is designed to make an institution more resilient to financial stress.

"10 basis points a quarter (improvement in the CET1 ratio) is enough ... we want to get to 12 percent," Machenil said.

BNP Paribas and other euro zone banks will be in focus again on Friday, when the European Central Bank is due to publish the results of its latest stress tests. Banks cannot pass or fail the tests, which are designed to assess the ability of "systemically important" institutions to withstand financial disturbance. The spotlight will be on Italian banks, due to their still-large portfolios of non-performing loans.

Regarding BNP Paribas, Machenil said: "We are a very diversified bank…. The diversified approach basically makes us resilient to many of those turbulences."

BNP Paribas is France's biggest bank by market capitalization, according to Forbes.

Its shares traded 2.5 percent higher after its results were out on Thursday.

Along with other European bank stocks, BNP Paribas shares slumped following the U.K.'s vote to leave the European Union on June 23, but have pared losses since then. They remain lower on the year however.

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