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Italy's Del Vecchio lifts stake in Mediobanca to just below 10%: source

Kitco News

MILAN (Reuters) - Billionaire Leonardo Del Vecchio has raised his Mediobanca stake to nearly 10%, a person with knowledge of the matter said, leaving him as the bank’s biggest shareholder and raising expectations of further deals in the Italian finance sector.

The 84-year-old chairman of eye-wear giant EssilorLuxottica (ESLX.PA) has urged Mediobanca to return to its roots in investment banking and grow through mergers and acquisitions.

His stake building has also fueled weeks of speculation that he has related plans for insurer Generali (GASI.MI), in which he has a 4.9% stake and in which Mediobanca has 13%.

Del Vecchio, who had built up a 7.5% stake in Mediobanca over recent weeks, bought almost 2.5% in a placement by UniCredit (CRDI.MI) on Wednesday, the person said.

The purchase, which lifted his stake to just under the threshold needing European Central Bank approval, left Del Vecchio as Mediobanca’s biggest shareholder after UniCredit cut its historic ties with the bank, whose shares were down 0.8%.

A spokesman for Delfin, Del Vecchio’s holding company, declined to comment on the increased stake in Mediobanca, which was first reported by Bloomberg on Thursday and drove shares in Generali up more than 3% in Milan.

Last month three sources close to the matter told Reuters Del Vecchio aimed to use his Mediobanca stake as a means of putting pressure on Generali management for possible cross-border deals.

UniCredit’s exit from Mediobanca after decades of history together marked a major shift in Italy’s financial landscape but it was unclear whether it weakened Del Vecchio’s drive for change at Mediobanca, where he has criticised an expansion into consumer credit and wealth management by CEO Alberto Nagel.

Asked whether there had been any contacts with Del Vecchio, UniCredit Chief Executive Jean Pierre Mustier said his group had been careful to stay out of any battle for control.

“The only thing I can say is that we’ve been managing our stake in Mediobanca independently because we think it is important that we were working completely at arm’s length,” he told an analyst call after UniCredit’s third quarter results.

Nagel, who is due to present a new business plan on Nov. 12, has defended Mediobanca’s expansion into consumer credit and wealth management and said that his growth strategy was based on organic assumptions.

Reporting by Gianluca Semeraro, additional reporting by Claudia Cristoferi, editing by James Mackenzie and Alexander Smith

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