UniCredit rules out sale of HVB, no comment on Pioneer

MILAN Mon Mar 17, 2014 1:35pm EDT

The UniCredit Bank headquarters is pictured in Milan March 11, 2014. REUTERS/Alessandro Garofalo

The UniCredit Bank headquarters is pictured in Milan March 11, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Alessandro Garofalo

MILAN (Reuters) - Italy's biggest bank by assets, UniCredit SpA (CRDI.MI), ruled out on Monday a possible sale or listing of its German unit HVB, while declining to comment on a press report it is considering those options for asset manager Pioneer.

Late on Sunday, the Financial Times reported that UniCredit was considering putting up for sale or floating Pioneer, valued at over 2 billion euros ($2.8 billion), as early as next year.

In the same article, the British newspaper said the bank was also considering similar moves for HVB further down the line.

"We will not list HVB. We don't want to sell HVB. It is a 'jewel' that makes us very happy," UniCredit Chairman Giuseppe Vita told Germany's Handesblatt newspaper.

"Germany remains one of our core businesses," he said, rejecting speculation that has repeatedly surfaced in the German press.

Earlier on Monday, a spokesman for UniCredit declined to comment on a possible sale or listing of Pioneer.

UniCredit posted a record 14 billion euro loss for 2013 due to huge writedowns on bad loans and past acquisitions as it moved to clean up its balance sheet before an industry-wide health check by European regulators.

UniCredit launched a restructuring plan on the same day, aimed at cutting 8,500 jobs by 2018 - nearly 6 percent of its workforce.

The bank, which has been battling a prolonged recession at home, is carrying out a restructuring of its retail bank business in Germany, including cutting 1,675 jobs by 2018, and has taken 355 million euros in charges.

Germany represents 21 percent of group revenues.

MORE CAPITAL

In an effort to raise capital, UniCredit plans to list its Internet-banking arm Fineco this year and sell UniCredit Management Bank, which manages and sells bad debt.

CEO Federico Ghizzoni declined to comment when asked by reporters last week if UniCredit was planning to sell Pioneer.

"For the moment, Pioneer remains core," a source familiar with the situation said.

The Milan-based lender had tried to sell Pioneer, which manages 174 billion euros of assets, four years ago, but abandoned that plan shortly after Federico Ghizzoni took over as chief executive in 2010.

Several European banks, including Lloyds (LLOY.L), Santander (SAN.MC) and Societe Generale (SOGN.PA), have sold their asset management businesses over the past year in a bid to repair crisis-battered balance sheets.

In presentation slides of its 2013-2018 business plan, UniCredit said it planned to scale-up Pioneer's asset management business by increasing its distribution footprint.

The plan targets boosting Pioneer's assets under management to 263 billion euros by 2018.

($1 = 0.7181 Euros)

(Reporting by Richa Naidu in Bangalore and Lisa Jucca in Milan; Editing by Louise Heavens and Mark Potter)

FILED UNDER: