BNP Paribas , France's biggest bank by market value, posted higher second-quarter profit on Tuesday, helped by its purchase of Fortis assets, and expressed some optimism over prospects for financial markets.

Net profit rose 6.6 percent from a year earlier to 1.604 billion euros ($2.29 billion), while gross operating profit rose 44.7 percent to 4.06 billion euros, beating the average forecast of 3.67 billion euros in a Reuters poll of 12 analysts.

BNP Paribas said its acquisition of some of the key assets of struggling European bank Fortis contributed 261 million euros to net profit. The French group added that its integration of Fortis was on track.

Rival French bank Societe Generale reports on August 5, while Credit Agricole and Natixis publish figures at the end of the month.

While many of the world's biggest banks have reported solid profits this quarter -- leading some analysts to believe that the worst of the financial crisis might be over -- UBS and Morgan Stanley have continued to post losses.

Earlier this week, HSBA posted lower first-half profits, while smaller British rival Barclays reported a rise in interim profits.

BNP Paribas Chief Executive Baudouin Prot told French radio station BFM on Tuesday that he was feeling more confident.

I am relatively positive about the markets, he said.


BNP Paribas added it would buy majority control of Italian consumer finance group Findomestic, currently jointly owned by BNP and Italian bank Intesa Sanpaolo .

In Italy, BNP already owns the BNL retail bank.

The French bank said it would buy an extra 25 percent stake in Findomestic in the second half of this year for 625 million euros, bringing its shareholding up to 75 percent.

It added it could buy the remaining 25 percent of Findomestic in two to four years.

BNP Paribas also said it was well placed to deal with the challenges of the current economic environment.

BNP Paribas shares closed up 2.7 percent at 52.53 euros on Monday, giving the bank a market capitalization of around 57 billion euros. The stock has risen 74 percent so far this year, having fallen 59 percent last year.

($1=.7019 Euro)

(Editing by Simon Jessop/Will Waterman)