Anima seen playing role in Italian banking M&A
Fund invested 600 mln euros in fintech businesses
Move strengthens Italian ownership vs French presence
MILAN, Feb 16 (Reuters) - An Italian private equity fund has bought 7.2% of Anima Holding, the bank that handled the deal said on Wednesday, investing in an asset manager likely to be involved in future domestic banking consolidation.
The 109 million euro ($116 million) stakebuilding strengthens the grip of Italian investors on a company in which France's Amundi - Europe's biggest asset manager - has also taken a stake through funds managed on behalf of clients.
Amundi has a strong presence in Italy having spent 3.6 billion euros in 2017 to buy peer Pioneer from UniCredit .
Formerly backed by the state and focused on promoting national champions, private equity fund Fondo Strategico Italiano (FSI) targeted a stake of up to 9%. It secured just above the 7% minimum deal size with a 7.5% premium versus Tuesday's closing price.
Shares in Anima closed up 3% at 4.17 euros each on Wednesday, below the 4.35 euros offered by Mediobanca on behalf of FSI.
Anima shares hit a 29-month low in September at 2.8 euros, but have recovered since.
A person close to the matter said FSI had further beefed up its stake on Wednesday, with volumes traded totalling some 40 times the past month's daily average. FSI, which has not disclosed the reasons behind its investment, declined to comment.
Formerly an investment vehicle of Italian state lender CDP, FSI is now owned by its partners, including CEO and former Merrill Lynch banker Maurizio Tamagnini.
CDP is now one of the investors in funds managed by FSI, which has a firepower of 1.4 billion euros.
It has already invested 600 million euros in financial service and technology businesses, including banking software provider Cedacri where it partners with fintech group ION.
FSI's investment comes a week before a deadline to file candidates for Anima's new board. Based on its by-laws, a 9% stake ensures its owner a board seat, though a 7% stake should also be enough for this aim.
Anima's biggest investor is Italian lender Banco BPM with 20.6%, followed by the national post office Poste Italiane with 11%. Both are set to appoint their own representatives on the board.
Anima has a commercial partnership in place with both Banco BPM and Monte dei Paschi di Siena, the state-owned bank which Rome must re-privatise and of which Banco is seen as a potential buyer.
"This move could be a bet on the possible reshuffle of the Italian banking system with the creation of a bigger banking group, which could control Anima at the end of the story," broker Akros said.
Amundi became the third-largest investor in Anima last year with a 5.2% stake, in a move that focused attention on French interest in the Italian financial sector.
Amundi acquired its Anima stake a month after Amundi's owner, French bank Credit Agricole, bought 9.2% of Banco BPM, becoming its single largest investor.
Anima turned to the government of then Prime Minister Mario Draghi where officials shared its concerns about the importance of keeping the asset manager in Italian hands, sources told Reuters at the time.
Of Anima's 177 billion euros of assets under management, some 100 billion euros are invested in Italian government bonds. ($1 = 0.9340 euros) (Reporting by Valentina Za; Editing by Keith Weir, David Holmes and Diane Craft)