PARIS -- France's Peugeot family, which owns a 14 percent stake in automaker PSA Group, will further diversify its investments and expand outside of France to strengthen its holding company and offset the weight of its shareholding in the car manufacturer founded by Armand Peugeot in 1896.
Varying the portfolio of FFP, the family's publicly traded vehicle, helps counter the cyclical nature of the car business, CEO Officer Robert Peugeot, 66, said in a phone interview Monday.
FFP also will invest in international companies or those that have international activities to "balance risks," he said. To find new opportunities, FFP opened a unit in London this year.
Diversifying already allowed the family to participate in the rescue of PSA two years ago, when plunging demand for cars prompted the bailout of the carmaker by China's Dongfeng Motor Corp. and the French government. The Peugeot family participated in a rights offer so that it could maintain a stake of 14 percent, the same as Dongfeng and the state.
"Had we been in the same situation as in 2002, when we had little leeway when it came to PSA, I think that the rescue of PSA would have happened with us being a spectator, while here we were actively maneuvering because we had the financial means to do so," he said.
In June, the carmaker represented around a third of FFP's assets, according to the firm. Three other French companies -- aircraft-seat manufacturer Zodiac Aerospace, appliance producer SEB and nursing-home operator Orpea -- account for another 30 percent of FFP's investments. Robert Peugeot said he has no target for the weight of PSA in FFP's portfolio.
The Peugeots began diversifying their assets in the 2000s under the helm of Robert. FFP was a candidate to buy a 60 percent stake in the airport in Lyon, France, along with Macquarie Group Ltd. Peugeot said it had a "very good experience with Macquarie" and that it could look at other opportunities in airports, although there is no plan currently. FFP bought a stake in French asset manager Tikehau Capital Partners in July.
FFP's strategy of shifting away from the auto industry mirrors that of Italy's Agnelli family, which founded the automaker Fiat. Their Exor holding company this year acquired reinsurer PartnerRe for $6.1 billion.
The Peugeot family invested 350 million euros ($394 million) in PSA from 2010 through 2014, including the 2014 capital increase, which is "of course not much compared to the cash burn the company had at this moment, but which is significant for us," Robert Peugeot said.
The 2014 rescue involved the family reducing its stake in the carmaker from 25.5 percent to 14 percent, ending control over the company for the first time since its founding. The transaction provoked intense debate among the family, with cousins Robert and Thierry Peugeot clashing on the need for a deal.
Robert Peugeot said that there is "no taboo" on the family increasing its stake if there's an opportunity, adding that there was no plan to do so at this stage. The family can't raise its holding without the two other main shareholders agreeing to it. He said the standstill agreement "functions very well."
FFP shares have climbed 47 percent since the 2014 bailout of the car company and Peugeot shares have risen 28 percent, compared with a 12 percent return for France's benchmark CAC 40 Index.
There's no plan for PSA to pair up with another automaker to expand its international reach, said Peugeot, who sits on PSA's supervisory board. "Incidentally, we are now receiving fewer books from bankers who are touring the place to tell us with whom we should merge -- it is a relatively quiet time," he said.
On Monday, the company said Bertrand Finet, head of mid and large caps for Bpifrance, the French state-owned investment bank, will replace deputy CEO Alain Chagnon next year. Finet will pursue Chagnon's strategy, Robert Peugeot said.