(Adds details of BlackRock's various holdings, background)
MILAN, April 3 U.S. fund manager BlackRock
, 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 with a 6.85 percent
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
BlackRock also increased its stakes in Monte dei Paschi di
Siena and UniCredit 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
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)
(Reporting by Silvia Aloisi, Paola Arosio and Gianluca
Semeraro; Editing by Isla Binnie and Sophie Walker)