MILAN/LONDON (Reuters) - Leonardo Del Vecchio wants to further increase his stake in Italy’s Mediobanca (MDBI.MI) after securing just under 10% of the bank, sources told Reuters on Thursday, raising expectations of a prolonged shake-up in Italian finance.
The 84-year-old billionaire chairman of eye-wear giant EssilorLuxottica (ESLX.PA) is pushing Mediobanca, where he is now the biggest investor, to return to its investment banking roots and expand through mergers and acquisitions.
His stake building has fueled weeks of speculation that he has related plans for Generali (GASI.MI), the insurer in which he has a 4.9% stake and is 13% owned by Mediobanca.
Del Vecchio, who had amassed a 7.5% stake in Mediobanca over recent weeks, bought almost 2.5% in a placement on Wednesday by UniCredit (CRDI.MI) ending decades of shared history and marking a seismic shift in Italy’s financial landscape.
This lifted his stake to just under the threshold needing European Central Bank approval, leaving him as Mediobanca’s biggest shareholder.
Natixis (CNAT.PA) had submitted the order to buy the extra shares for Del Vecchio, another source said, adding the Italian entrepreneur had previously used the French investment bank to build up his stake in Mediobanca.
A spokesman for Natixis declined to comment.
Del Vecchio wants to take advantage of UniCredit’s decision to cut its ties with Mediobanca to increase his stake further, two sources with knowledge of the matter said.
One source added that he was targeting an overall holding of 20% but cautioned it could take him up to a year to secure regulatory approval.
The second source said Italy’s richest man was not in a rush and would not raise his stake at any price. Mediobanca’s shares are already trading at an 11-year high, giving it a market value of 9.6 billion euros ($10.6 billion).
A spokesman for Delfin, Del Vecchio’s holding company, declined to comment on his increased stake in Mediobanca, news of which drove shares in Generali up more than 3% in Milan.
Last month three sources close to the matter told Reuters that Del Vecchio aimed to use Mediobanca to put pressure on Generali for possible cross-border deals.
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.
Del Vecchio has criticized an expansion into consumer credit and wealth management by Mediobanca CEO Alberto Nagel.
Nagel, who is due to present a new business plan on Nov. 12, has defended Mediobanca’s strategy and said it was based on organic growth assumptions.
Reporting by Gianluca Semeraro, Claudia Cristoferi and Pamela Barbaglia; editing by James Mackenzie and Alexander Smith