(Corrects Parmalat CEO’s first name to Enrico, not Roberto, in eighth paragraph)
* Intesa SP: open to taking part in Italian consortium
* Intesa SP: will submit own list for board
* Shares up 3.95 pct, sector up 1.12 pct
(Adds details, background, shares)
By Stefano Bernabei
ROME, March 16 (Reuters) - Shares in Italy’s Parmalat SpA (PLT.MI) hit a 35-month high on Wednesday, boosted by speculation about a domestic tie-up for the dairy group to keep it out of foreign hands.
Newspaper reports have said that Parmalat, Italy’s biggest listed food company, had drawn interest separately from French dairy group Lactelis and Brazil’s Lacteos.
Intesa Sanpaolo SpA (ISP.MI), Italy’s biggest retail bank and a Parmalat shareholder, is open to taking part in an Italian consortium that could tie up with Parmalat, said Corrado Passera, the lender’s chief executive.
“We believe that Parmalat is an important Italian company and so if we can do something ... but there’s nothing to be announced today,” he told reporters on the margins of the Italian Banking Association’s executive board meeting.
Newspapers have said unlisted dairy group Granarolo could be part of the group. Granarolo Chairman Giampiero Calzolari was quoted by Corriere della Sera daily on Saturday as saying it could take part in a consortium to keep Parmalat Italian.
Parmalat shares touched their highest level since April 2008 and were up 3.95 percent at 2.474 euros at 1520 GMT. The STOXX Europe 600 food and beverage index .SX3P was up 1.12 percent.
A Milan trader said: “Anything could happen and so people keep buying.”
Adding to speculation about the company’s course, Passera also said Intesa Sanpaolo, which holds 2.44 percent of Parmalat, would propose a slate of board candidates headed by Chief Executive Enrico Bondi.
Bondi, the architect of Parmalat’s rebirth after its collapse in 2003, is under fire from activist funds who want more acquisitions and better returns from the company’s 1.4 billion euro ($1.95 billion) cash pile. Shareholders meet April 12-14 to pick a new board.
Activist funds Mackenzie Financial Corp, part of Canada’s IGM Financial (IGM.TO), Norway’s Skagen AS, and Zenit Asset Management AB put up their list of candidates for the 11-member board last week. [ID:nN1097527] The funds hold a combined 15.3 percent of Parmalat.
The dairy company also is seen as an potential takeover target since it has secured about 2 billion euros in litigation payments stemming from its collapse, dubbed “Europe’s Enron”.
Massimo Rossi, a former chief executive of Swedish Match (SWMA.ST) and named by the funds as Bondi’s replacement, has told newspapers his strategy could include an eventual tie-up with Granarolo.
Chevreux, a broker, said in a research report that a strategic alliance like one with Granarolo would help reduce investors’ disappointment over how Parmalat has used earnings.
A deal with Granarolo could add about 0.15 euro to the share price, it said.
On March 2, the funds denied a newspaper report that they were talking to Lactelis or any other party about a sale of their stake. [ID:nLDE7210RU]
Two Brazilian newspapers also reported last week that Parmalat was holding merger talks with Lacteos Brasil in a deal valued at up to $3.4 billion.
(Additional reporting by Sabina Suzzi and Cristina Carlevaro in Milan, writing by Ian Simpson; Editing by David Cowell)