Banco BPM focused on growing as a standalone lender, CEO says

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PARMA, Italy, Feb 12 (Reuters) - Banco BPM (BAMI.MI) is focused on growth opportunities as a standalone lender, the head of Italy's third-largest bank said on Saturday, a day after renewed speculation that larger rival UniCredit (CRDI.MI) could launch a takeover bid pushed shares up 10%.

With its roots in the wealthy Lombardy region Banco BPM, which has a market capitalisation of around 5.4 billion euros ($6.13 billion), is seen as the ideal geographical fit for UniCredit, Italy's second-biggest bank.

"We still have a very important path to take on the stock exchange, we have a very important standalone growth path ahead of us that is not yet fully exploited," Banco BPM Chief Executive Giuseppe Castagna said on the sidelines of the ASSIOM FOREX conference in Parma. "Banco BPM is worth more."

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Asked about potential interest from UniCredit, Castagna said the bank had not received any communication from its larger peer in that regard.

Responding to the rumours of a potential imminent bid, UniCredit on Friday said it continued to evaluate all strategic options and would inform the market in due time, adding no extraordinary board meeting had been called.

Earlier this week, Banco BPM shares hit their highest-level in four years after the lender posted better-than-expected fourth-quarter earnings, as loan loss provisions more than halved and fees boosted revenues.

Castagna said at the time the lender did not see any merger opportunities at present and was concentrating on the business plan it had presented last year.

"We have just come out of a restructuring process, we have presented an aggressive plan ... but we think the market is only beginning to recognise what is the path that will take us much further," Castagna added on Saturday.

Banco BPM's shares have gained around 35% since the beginning of the year and more than 60% in the last 12 months, as it's seen as a possible M&A target.

($1 = 0.8811 euros)

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Reporting by Francesca Landini, writing by Agnieszka Flak; Editing by Kirsten Donovan

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