February 12, 2020 / 4:29 PM / 9 days ago

UPDATE 1- Italy's Nexi says tie-up talks with SIA still at preliminary stage

(Adds CEO comments from conference call)

MILAN, Feb 12 (Reuters) - Talks about a possible tie-up between Italian payment group Nexi and its smaller rival SIA are still at a preliminary stage, Nexi’s chief executive said on Wednesday.

In December Nexi’s top shareholder Mercury UK said it was in contact with SIA over a possible merger but had not progressed beyond a very preliminary phase.

“We are still at that stage,” Nexi CEO Paolo Bertoluzzo told analysts in a post earnings conference call.

There has been speculation the pair might merge since Nexi listed last April in one of Europe’s biggest initial public offerings (IPOs) of the year.

Among other deals in the European payments industry, Worldline agreed earlier this month to buy French rival Ingenico for 7.8 billion euros.

Last week SIA, controlled by state-owned investment body CDP, said it had started preparations for a listing on the Milan stock market, but its CEO Nicola Cordone told Ansa news agency that the group is also considering an M&A deal with industrial partners.

Nexi reported an 18.5% increase in core earnings in 2019 to 503 million euros ($548 million), boosted by cost cutting and growth in sales, broadly in line with company guidance and market expectations. Its revenue rose to 984 million euros last year.

Last December, Nexi bought the retail payment business of Italy’s biggest bank Intesa Sanpaolo in a 1 billion euro deal.

Bertoluzzo said that the company was open to further acquisition opportunities. ($1 = 0.9165 euros) ($1 = 0.9179 euros) (Reporting by Elisa Anzolin; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)

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