Ex-UniCredit CEO Mustier, LVMH's Arnault form SPAC for financial deals

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Unicredit bank CEO Mustier poses during the shareholders meeting in Rome
Unicredit bank CEO Jean Pierre Mustier poses during the shareholders meeting in Rome, Italy, January 12, 2017. REUTERS/Remo Casilli/File Photo

PARIS, Feb 15 (Reuters) - Former UniCredit boss Jean-Pierre Mustier is teaming up with France's richest man Bernard Arnault to launch a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) aimed at European financial deals, as a boom in blank cheque vehicles spreads from the United States.

French investment firm Tikehau Capital SCA (TKOO.PA) is sponsoring the SPAC alongside Mustier, Financiere Agache, a group belonging to Arnault, as well as banker Diego De Giorgi, formerly of UniCredit (CRDI.MI) and Bank of America Merrill Lynch (BAC.N).

The four of them will be equal partners in the venture, sources familiar with the situation said. The SPAC will be listed in Amsterdam, and is the first of several being planned by this group.

"We see SPACs as a natural extension of our toolbox now. We plan for repeated issuance and not just a one-off opportunistic one," said one of the sources.

A SPAC is a shell company that raises money in an initial public offering (IPO) to merge with a privately held company, that then becomes publicly traded as a result.

SPACs have emerged as a popular IPO alternative for companies, especially in the United States, providing a path to going public with less regulatory scrutiny and more certainty over the valuation that will be attained and funds raised.

Overall, 144 SPACs have raised $45.7 billion so far this year, based on data from SPAC Research, with backers including high-profile investors, politicians and sports personalities. read more

The huge roster of deals there has meant that there have been concerns over a saturation of that market, which helped fuel the decision to list in Europe instead.

"We looked at the U.S. market and decided to do it in Amsterdam instead. We thought our proposal was differentiated by taking it to Europe, particularly when we are looking to target European companies," said the source.

"But we have looked to replicate a U.S. structure so global investors understand it, and Amsterdam seemed best suited for that. You may have also seen that Amsterdam has taken over London in terms of (stock market) flows," he added.

Bankers agreed that Amsterdam is emerging as the destination of choice in Europe, as regulations there are closest to the United States, where protections for SPAC investors are better than in many jurisdictions.

For example, Dutch regulations allow investors to redeem their investment if the target eventually identified is not to their liking.

In the financial services arena, other big name sponsors are also emerging. Former Credit Suisse CEO Tidjane Thiam is also launching a SPAC that will list in New York and focus on financial services, while Martin Blessing, a former chief executive officer of Commerzbank AG, is planning one listed in the Netherlands.

The Tikehau SPAC will target areas such as financial technology or fintech, fund management, insurance and other diversified financial services.

This follows the first one launched in France in December by Xavier Niel, former Lazard banker Matthieu Pigasse and entrepreneur Moez-Alexandre Zouari, aimed at deals in the health and food industries.

Mustier, who also had a spell running French bank Societe Generale's (SOGN.PA) investment banking arm, left UniCredit this month.

In nearly five years at the helm, Mustier rebuilt UniCredit's capital reserves and cleaned up its balance sheet, but failed to find sustained profit drivers or lift the bank's depressed stock price.

Arnault is best known as the founder of luxury goods group and Louis Vuitton owner LVMH (LVMH.PA). His personal holding company, Financiere Agache, is a long-standing investor in Tikehau, the investment firm said.

Reporting by Sudip Kar-Gupta; Editing by Christopher Cushing and Edwina Gibbs

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