* Net profit in 2013 could be in region of 280 mln euros
* Mediolanum posted record high net profit in 2012
* Dividend payout to return to 50 pct
* Shares down 2.5 pct (adds management comments, detail, shares)
By Maria Pia Quaglia and Stephen Jewkes
MILAN, March 21 Mediolanum, one of Italy's largest asset managers, will post a lower net profit this year after income made from putting to use cheap European Central Bank money helped lift the group's 2012 result to a record high, it said.
Mediolanum said its net profit in 2012 rose more than five-fold to a record 351 million euros ($454 million). The result was boosted by management and performance fees, asset revaluations and carry-trade profit using ECB liquidity.
Mediolanum tapped around 3 billion euros of the cheap cash offered by the ECB in its two three-year liquidity tenders in December 2011 and February 2012. The money was invested in higher-yielding Italian government bonds.
"(Profits) in 2013 could be somewhere in the region of 280 million euros," Mediolanum deputy chairman Massimo Doris told Reuters in a telephone interview.
Shares in the asset manager accelerated losses after the comments and were down 3.7 percent at 1524 GMT while the Italian blue-chip index was down 0.2 percent.
"The 280 million euro number is below street estimates," a Milan trader said. The Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S view points to a net profit in 2013 of around 296 million euros.
But Doris said that with assets under management growing, a repeat of the record 2012 result was not too far off.
"In the next 2-3 years we can easily see (a return to) these levels of profit," he said.
Mediolanum, in which former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is a major shareholder, said it would pay a dividend on 2012 results of 0.18 euros per share, a payout in the region of 38 percent.
Doris said the group expected to go back to paying out around 50 percent of its profits this year.
BUYING ITALIAN DEBT
Doris, who is also CEO of Banca Mediolanum, said the asset manager would continue to invest in Italian government bonds since they offered good returns and were not a dangerous investment.
Italy's political deadlock after February's elections and concern over a possible banking collapse in Cyprus have reignited debt jitters in Europe's periphery.
"Our exposure (to Italian debt) will grow a bit this year," Doris said.
At the end of December Mediolanum had 11.45 billion euros of Italian debt in its bond portfolio which totalled 15.46 billion euros.
Doris confirmed that Mediolanum's 3.4 percent stake in Italy's top investment bank Mediobanca remained a strategic investment. But he ruled out buying any of the 3.8 percent stake insurer Fondiaria-SAI is slated to sell.
Fondiaria is set to merge with peer Unipol this year and has been called upon to sell its stake in Mediobanca by the Italian competition watchdog.
Mediolanum made a writedown of 63 million euros on its Mediobanca stake in its 2012 results. (Reporting By Maria Pia Quaglia and Stephen Jewkes; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)