MILAN U.S. fund manager BlackRock (BLK.N), which has been on a shopping spree in Italy over the past six weeks, is now the biggest shareholder in Italian cooperative lender Banco Popolare (BAPO.MI) with a 6.85 percent stake.
Italy's market regulator said in a statement on Thursday the holding dated back to March 31, the day on which Banco Popolare launched a 1.5 billion euro ($2.06 billion) capital increase.
Banco Popolare CEO Pier Francesco Saviotti was quoted by Corriere della Sera on Sunday as saying purchases by U.S. investors had been behind the stock's 7 percent price rise on March 28.
BlackRock also increased its stakes in Monte dei Paschi di Siena (BMPS.MI) and UniCredit (CRDI.MI) last month - to 5.75 and 5.25 percent respectively - making it the biggest shareholder in both. It is also the second biggest investor in Intesa Sanpaolo (ISP.MI).
Italy is attracting investors again as its economy emerges from a two year-long recession and a new government led by Prime Minister Matteo Renzi raises hopes the country may finally tackle long-awaited reforms. Credit Suisse analysts described the "Renzi rally" in a report this week and said potential mergers among the country's banks could lead to "material cost synergies and higher margins".
At Thursday's market close, BlackRock's stake in Banco Popolare was worth 359 million euros, the holding in Monte Paschi 190 million euros, while the stakes in Intesa and UniCredit were worth around 2 billion euros each.
($1 = 0.7291 Euros)