October 28, 2019 / 1:44 PM / 20 days ago

Del Vecchio's clout at Mediobanca boosted after Bollore cuts stake

MILAN (Reuters) - Italian eyewear billionaire Leonardo Del Vecchio has become Mediobanca’s second biggest shareholder, strengthening his hand in a campaign for change at the Italian bank, after French businessman Vincent Bollore cut his stake in the lender.

Reading out a list of shareholders at the bank’s annual general meeting, Mediobanca Chairman Renato Pagliaro said Bollore - who earlier this month threw his weight behind the bank’s chief executive - held 6.73% of Mediobanca, down from 7.85% previously.

Leonardo Del Vecchio, the 84-year-old chairman of eye-wear giant EssilorLuxottica (ESLX.PA), who is calling for a strategy overhaul at Mediobanca, currently has a 7.52% holding, up from the 6.94% stake he unexpectedly snapped up last month.

UniCredit (CRDI.MI) remains the single largest investor with an 8.81% stake.

Del Vecchio has urged Mediobanca to bolster its investment banking business and grow through mergers and acquisitions, relying less on consumer credit and its most prized asset - a stake in Italy’s top insurer Generali (GASI.MI).

A spokesman for Bollore said on Oct. 12 the Frenchman was “very satisfied” with the way Mediobanca Chief Executive Alberto Nagel has run the bank and had had no contacts with Del Vecchio.

Nagel, who is due to present a new business plan on Nov. 12, has defended the bank’s expansion into consumer credit and wealth management, rejecting Del Vecchio’s criticism.

On Monday, he told the shareholder meeting that the bank relied much less on Generali, in which Mediobanca has a 13% stake, than a decade ago. The insurer accounts for about 30% of Mediobanca’s operating profit.

“To say that Mediobanca results rely on Generali made sense 10 years ago but it is no longer true. Ten years ago Generali accounted for 25% of group revenues, now for 12.5%,” Nagel told Mediobanca’s annual general meeting.

“I hope Generali will remain an independent company based in Italy,” he added.

He said that Mediobanca did not need to sell the Generali stake as European rules on banks holding stakes in insurers had changed, but added it could still do it if it needed to fund M&A opportunities in wealth management.

Sources close to the matter have said that Del Vecchio aims, by building a stake in Mediobanca and putting pressure on its management, to have more control over the future of Generali, including through possible cross-border deals.

He would favour a tie-up with a foreign group, though he wants to ensure Generali’s Italian identity is preserved, the sources added.

On Monday, underlining the importance of the operation, he was represented at the AGM by Romolo Bardin, chief executive of his holding company Delfin, rather than just by lawyers, though Bardin asked no questions.

Editing by Silvia Aloisi and Deepa Babington

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