(Adds details, background)
MILAN May 5 UniCredit is moving forward on the planned sale of its debt collection unit, as part of a broader effort by Italy's biggest bank by assets to squeeze more money out of its large soured-loans portfolio.
The lender will soon let potential buyers of its Credit Management Bank unit look at its financial data, Chief Executive Federico Ghizzoni said on Monday.
"We are about to open the data room (to interested parties)," Ghizzoni told reporters on the sidelines of an event in Milan. He said investor interest appeared to be high but declined comment on the number of suitors in the race, or give their names.
"It is not easy (but) we expect to close the deal by the end of this year," Ghizzoni said.
UniCredit had 82 billion euros ($113.7 billion) in gross bad loans at the end of 2013.
The bank booked a record 14 billion euros loss last year after writedowns on bad loans and goodwill, as it lead an aggressive balance-sheet clean-up among Italian lenders in the run-up to a regulatory health-check of banks in the euro zone.
According to Italian daily Il Sole 24 Ore, the bank will allow a handful of suitors to dig into the data of Credit Management Bank, which manages more than 40 billion euros of soured loans owned both by UniCredit and third parties.
The bank is trying to sell off a portfolio of bad loans together with a majority stake of the debt collection unit to make bad loan management more effective.
It sold two portfolios of bad debts in recent months and has signed a deal with Intesa Sanpaolo and U.S. fund KKR to jointly manage some restructured loans the two banks are both owed by the same Italian companies. ($1 = 0.7212 Euros) (Reporting by Francesca Landini and Gianluca Semeraro; Editing by David Holmes)