| MILAN, March 7
MILAN, March 7 Five U.S. private equity funds
have expressed interest in the "bad bank" unit of Italy's Banco
Popolare, according to sources, in a sign of growing
appetite from foreign investors for real estate and distressed
credit in the country.
Banco Popolare, Italy's No.4 lender by assets, said last
week it was seeking to sell a majority stake in its Release
unit, which owns and manages soured loans and real estate assets
with a total gross value of 3.2 billion euros ($4.5 billion).
The cooperative lender, which currently owns 80 percent of
Release, has hired Equita Sim as adviser on the transaction.
Two sources close to the sale told Reuters that U.S. private
equity funds Apollo Global Management, Blackstone
, Cerberus, Fortress and Lone Star are in the race to buy
the majority of Release. Fortress has teamed up with Italian
property group Prelios for a potential bid.
Banco Popolare, Apollo, Blackstone and Cerberus declined to
comment. Lone Star, Fortress and Prelios were not immediately
available to comment.
Release had a book value of around 300 million euros as of
end-September 2013, an analyst said.
Cerberus has recently bought a bad debt portfolio from
Italy's UniCredit, while an investment fund managed by
billionaire financier George Soros acquired 5 percent of
shopping centre group Immobiliare Grande Distribuzione.
"Release owns mainly loans linked to leasing contracts with
Italian clients, so its business is in both property and
credit," said one of the sources, who has knowledge of the
assets on sale.
Analysts expect a slowly emerging recovery in the euro
zone's third-largest economy to bring a rise in real estate
transactions in the country. Collections on bad loans are also
starting to improve.
The due-diligence on Release is due to start in April and
binding offers for the bad bank are likely to follow.