* Italy asks UK to probe deal that preceded warning-source
* Consob filing confirms Fidelity was not the seller
By Stephen Jewkes and Giancarlo Navach
MILAN, Feb 5 The hunt is on for the investor who
sold shares in Italian oil services group Saipem just
before a profit warning which slashed the group's stock market
value, after confirmation it could not have been investment fund
Regulators have tracked the deal to London, a source close
to Italian regulator Consob said on Tuesday, and have asked
Britain's Financial Services Authority (FSA) to investigate a
sale they believe took place just hours before the warning from
Europe's biggest oil services company.
Fidelity last week denied reports from traders it had placed
a 2.3 percent stake for sale with Bank of America Merrill Lynch
on Jan. 28, and a filing lodged with Consob on Tuesday
confirmed it sold a much smaller stake on Jan. 31, after the
The filing also said it still held 1.9 percent in its
Fidelity Worldwide Investment fund.
Larger Italian oil company Eni holds 43 percent but
a spokeswoman said it had not sold any of its stock.
The only other institution shown by Reuters data as holding
a stake bigger than 2 percent is Blackrock International, with
2.82 percent as of August last year, but there may be others,
because under Italian regulations shareholders do not have to
declare holdings below 5 percent.
Blackrock declined comment or to discuss its holding. "We do
not comment on individual stocks or securities," said a
spokesman in an email.
The source said Consob had asked the FSA to look into the
placement by Merrill Lynch "to better understand what exactly
went on," referring to press reports that Merrill had handled
BofA Merrill Lynch has declined comment since reports of the
placement emerged last week. Consob and the FSA declined to
comment. Fidelity declined to comment beyond its statement last
week denying any pre-warning sale.
The regulatory probe is the latest headache for Saipem Chief
Executive Umberto Vergine, who took the helm in December after
his predecessor was forced out by an Italian investigation into
alleged corruption in Algeria.
Last week, traders told Reuters that Bofa Merrill Lynch had
on Jan. 28 started a process to sell 2.3 percent of Saipem
shares on the market at 30.65 euros per share. After the market
closed on Jan. 29, Saipem warned net profit would be halved this
year to 450 million euros.
Its shares tumbled 34 percent to 19.97 euros the following
In an interview with an Italian newspaper on Sunday, CEO
Vergine said he had not been pre-alerted as to any placement and
had learned of it from news agencies.
Vergine, a former manager at oil major Eni, and
Chief Financial Officer Stefano Goberti met Consob on Monday for
more than two hours. The two managers left without comment.
(Writing by Andrew Callus; Additional reporting by London
financials team; Editing by Erica Billingham and David Holmes)