MILAN (Reuters) - Italy’s antitrust watchdog said on Tuesday it has opened an inquiry into Intesa Sanpaolo’s (ISP.MI) proposed takeover of rival UBI Banca (UBI.MI) to assess the impact of the deal on the industry given its significance.
Intesa is seeking regulatory clearance for an exchange offer for UBI shares as it attempts to create the euro zone’s seventh-largest banking group, with a focus on asset management and insurance.
If it goes through, the Intesa-UBI deal would be Europe’s biggest banking merger in a decade.
“Given the importance of the deal, the antitrust authority’s inquiry will assess possible effects on competition in the banking, insurance and financial markets,” the regulator said in a statement.
In a document outlining the decision to launch the probe, a copy of which was seen by Reuters, the authority said the deal would radically alter Italy’s banking landscape because Intesa would leapfrog rival heavyweight UniCredit (CRDI.MI).
“The broad symmetry between the country’s top two banking groups would no longer apply,” it said.
Italy would also “lose a mid-sized player like UBI which, in a not so distant future, could have played an aggregating role to create a third large banking group next to Intesa and UniCredit,” the regulator added.
As the healthiest among Italy’s second-tier lenders, UBI has been considered a leading candidate to play a role in a long-awaited round of consolidation among mid-sized banks.
To address possible antitrust issues Intesa has agreed to sell 400-500 branches and some 20 billion euros ($22 billion) in assets of the new entity to BPER Banca (EMII.MI).
The authority said there were uncertainties over the exact scope of the accord, despite the fact that it was legally binding for the parties.
Intesa has said it expects to be able to launch the offer towards the end of June once it has obtained the necessary regulatory green lights.
The antitrust authority has two months to wrap up the probe.
Following the decision on Monday to launch the inquiry, the antitrust regulator on Tuesday sent police officials to obtain extra documents on the deal, four sources familiar with the matter told Reuters.
The sources said police officials were sent to the offices of Intesa and its leading financial adviser Mediobanca, as well as to UBI’s offices, to obtain paperwork in addition to that which had already been submitted by Intesa in its initial filing, the four sources said.
Italy’s antitrust watchdog relies on a special body of the country’s financial police to obtain documents under such circumstances.
Reporting by Valentina Za, Andrea Mandala, Gianluca Semeraro and Stephen Jewkes in Milan; Editing by David Evans and Matthew Lewis