Italy's ICCREA says receives ECB authorisation to create new banking group

MILAN, July 26 (Reuters) - Italian lender ICCREA Banca said on Thursday the European Central Bank had authorised it to set up a new banking group that would rank among the top four banks in the country.

Italy is reforming the cooperative banking sector forcing nearly 400 small lenders to merge into one of three larger groups being formed in a bid to boost their financial strength.

ICCREA Banca will head the biggest of the three groups.

The reform was passed by the previous centre-left government and the current anti-establishment executive this week approved measures to delay it by three months.

Following the latest changes, small cooperative banks will have 180 days, instead of 90, to agree to merge into the one of the three holding companies. (Reporting by Valentina Za, editing by Giulia Segreti)