The French government will sell between $5.3bn and $8.85bn of shares in France Telecom SA on May 6 and trading in the stock will start in Paris and New York on June 9, chairman Michel Bon said yesterday – but the French finance ministry declined confirm the figures or comment on the size of the stake it plans to sell in the phone company. France Telecom also reported a 1996 net attributable profit equivalent to $371.7m and down 77%; on a pro forma basis, excluding exceptional charges, it recorded a net profit of $2.57bn, up 3.6%. Revenue last year fell 17.8% after sales to $12.37bn. Bon said he expected profits excluding exceptional items to stabilize in 1997 at 1996 levels. The ministry finally said the amount sold would be determined by demand and market conditions, but did say it would be less than 50% of the company, since France finds that state control is a very hard habit to kick. The company said it was likely it would take cross shareholdings of some 10% with Deutsche Telekom AG in 1998. It has always been the plan to exchange stakes to cement our alliance, it said. But instead of the two governments deciding what the value of the stake should be, we are both going to the market and in a year’s time we will see what the market says is the value of the stake, he said.