Italy's Del Vecchio leads UniCredit investor opposition to MPS deal -sources

MILAN (Reuters) -Eyewear tycoon Leonardo Del Vecchio, who owns 1.9% of UniCredit, opposes the bank taking over rival Monte dei Paschi and is in touch with other large Italian investors who share his concerns, two people close to the matter said.

FILE PHOTO: UniCredit bank logo in the old city centre of Siena, Italy June 29, 2017. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini

Rome is trying to reduce its 64% stake in Monte dei Paschi (MPS), after spending 5.4 billion euros in a 2017 bailout of the world’s oldest bank.

MPS now needs up to another 2.5 billion euros ($3 billion) to bolster its finances and Italy sees UniCredit as the ideal partner, sources have said.

But the Milanese bank is looking for a new boss after CEO Jean Pierre Mustier said he would step down by April after clashing with its board over strategy.

Mustier, who favoured returning cash to investors over dealmaking, had set tough conditions for a potential MPS acquisition, sources have said.

The choice of his replacement as CEO will have implications for any potential MPS deal, with many shareholders in UniCredit fretting about any candidate perceived as too close to the government, financial sources have said.

Il Sole 24 Ore reported on Thursday that Del Vecchio had held meetings with two other major shareholders in UniCredit, Fondazione CariVerona and Fondazione CRT. Del Vecchio is the 85-year-old billionaire founder of eyewear giant EssilorLuxottica and also the leading investor in Mediobanca.

The three shareholders, which have a combined UniCredit holding of 5.36%, are looking to form a pact to have a greater say in the choice of a new CEO and stave off a potential MPS deal, the daily newspaper said.

UniCredit, Del Vecchio’s holding company Delfin, and the two foundations declined to comment on the report.

One of the sources confirmed that the three UniCredit shareholders had held talks and said they also had reservations over an acquisition of loss-making MPS, adding that it was too soon to speak of any shareholder accord.

The source said one way to steer UniCredit away from any MPS deal would be to back an alternative merger.

UniCredit had held preliminary merger talks with Banco BPM last year that came to nothing.

Rome is working on plans to make an MPS takeover more palatable to UniCredit and its shareholders and two people familiar with the matter told Reuters on Tuesday that Italy could take on about 14 billion euros in impaired loans from UniCredit via state-backed loan manager AMCO.

The second source said some UniCredit investors, while sceptical about an MPS deal, could be willing to evaluate the conditions put forward by Rome.

UniCredit is expected to pick a new CEO in February while a shortlist of candidates may emerge around mid-January when the bank’s nomination committee and the board are due to meet, three people familiar with the matter have said.

One of the people said the bank was looking for a candidate with strong international credentials in line with indications Chairman-elect Pier Carlo Padoan, a former economy minister, had received from investors in recent meetings.

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Additional reporting by Valentina Za and Andrea Mandala; Editing by Jane Merriman and Alexander Smith