Italy's BPER open to considering merger options

MILAN (Reuters) - BPER Banca is willing to consider potential merger options though the priority remains to integrate recently acquired branches, its chief executive said on Wednesday, after the Italian bank posted a higher second quarter net profit.

The purchase of 620 branches Intesa Sanpaolo was forced to offload last year when it took over rival UBI has significantly boosted BPER’s domestic footprint, paving the way for Italy’s fifth-largest bank to play a role in ongoing consolidation in the sector.

CEO Piero Montani, who after his arrival at BPER in May had said he would focus on the newly bought branches, said a stand-alone scenario was unlikely for BPER, though there were no deals currently on the table.

“The market is pushing ahead (with consolidation) and we could be involved,” Montani told analysts, adding that if a merger opportunity arose BPER was in a position to take it.

Montani said potential options included Banco BPM and Popolare di Sondrio while BPER had little interest for Carige, which is looking for a partner.

Merger talks between BPER and Banco BPM came to halt earlier this year.

In the meanwhile BPER’s top investor, insurance group Unipol, in May raised its stake in Popolare Sondrio in a move that may ease a tie-up between the regional bank and BPER.

BPER, based in the northern Emilia Romagna region, said net profit in the second quarter was 101.5 million euros ($120 million), up 6% from a year earlier and better than a 78- million euro forecast in a Reuters analyst poll.

($1 = 0.8447 euros)

Reporting by Andrea Mandalà; editing by Agnieszka Flak and Valentina Za