UniCredit kicks off sale of its stake in Mediobanca

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MILAN (Reuters) – Italy’s largest bank UniCredit (MI:) said on Tuesday it had started the sale of its 8.4% stake in investment bank Mediobanca (MI:), in a move that could shake up the country’s financial landscape.

UniCredit has been a long-time shareholder in the venerable merchant bank, which for most of Italy’s post-war history was at the centre of a web of cross-shareholdings allowing it to call the shots at Italy Inc.

Though Mediobanca has in recent years exited many of its investments in other companies, it remains the biggest shareholder in Europe’s third-largest insurer Generali (MI:).

Credito Italiano, the bank that UniCredit grew out of, was among the founders of Mediobanca in 1946.

UniCredit, which was Mediobanca’s largest shareholder prior to the sale, is selling the stake at an average price of 10.53 euros per share, according to one of the bookrunners for the sale, for an overall value of around 780 million euros ($863.4 million).

Mediobanca shares have risen 46% since the start of the year, compared with a 21% rise in the Italian banking index ().

The stake sale is the latest in a string of disposals and other measures to reduce UniCredit’s exposure to Italy by Chief Executive Jean Pierre Mustier. The Frenchman, who is aiming to bolster the bank’s balance sheet, will present UniCredit’s third-quarter results on Thursday.

The sale comes as Mediobanca’s strategy of diversifying away from investment banking and into consumer credit and wealth management has faced attack from billionaire Leonardo Del Vecchio, who unexpectedly bought a 7.5% stake between September and October.

UniCredit’s exit leaves Del Vecchio, founder of the Luxottica eyewear group, as Mediobanca’s top shareholder and there has been recurring speculation in local media that he plans to increase his holding.

However, UniCredit said in its statement it had requested the placement be made to a diversified pool of investors, indicating it was not selling the stake to Del Vecchio.

A source close to the matter said that with UniCredit’s exit Del Vecchio may have lost a potential ally in its fight to promote change at Mediobanca.

BofA Securities (N:), Morgan Stanley (N:) and UniCredit Corporate & Investment Banking are acting as joint bookrunners of the placement.

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