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Generali move blocks potential takeover by Intesa

Generali, Italy’s largest insurer, has bought voting rights amounting to 3.01 per cent in Intesa Sanpaolo in a defensive move designed to block a mooted takeover bid by the country’s largest bank.

The move came after shares in the insurer rose nearly 4 per cent on Monday following a report in Turin-based newspaper La Stampa suggesting Intesa was considering a takeover bid in tandem with Germany’s Allianz.

A person close to Generali said the insurer had decided to buy the shares in Intesa to block any attempt by the Italian bank to build a stake on the market.

Under Italian stock market rules intended to block substantial cross-shareholdings, an Italian financial group cannot own more than 3 per cent of another financial institution if the latter already has a stake of more than 3 per cent in it.

Intesa declined to comment. Allianz was not immediately reachable for comment.

Generali has been considered vulnerable to a takeover since the exit of Mario Greco, its well-regarded former chief executive, a year ago, a departure that triggered a sharp fall in its share price. Early in December, its share price was down 15 per cent year on year.

The stock has rallied since mid-December, partly due to a wider relief rally over concerns about Italy’s banking sector.

Nevertheless, Generali, under Frenchman Philippe Donnet, its new chief and a former Axa executive, is considered a potential target for a break-up, say people close to the insurer. Germany’s Allianz has long been considered a possible buyer for its French operations, according to people within the insurance industry.

3.01%

Generali stake in Intesa Sanpaolo, which bars any attempt by the bank at a takeover

A break-up deal in which Intesa bought Generali’s Italian operations and Allianz took control of some or all of its operations outside Italy would make strategic sense, these people said.

Any move on Generali would also involve Mediobanca, the Italian investment bank which is the insurer’s largest shareholder, with a 13 per cent stake. Alberto Nagel, Mediobanca’s chief executive, has said he is prepared to sell down the stake to about 10 per cent in the short term.

It is not the first time Italian financial institutions have used a blocking move to ward off an unwanted approach. Roman bank Capitalia bought a 2 per cent stake in Intesa in 2006 amid speculation the latter could be considering a bid. In the end, Capitalia was taken over by Intesa’s Italian rival UniCredit.

Via FT