Spanish bank seeks to pull off Italian job

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The Independent Online

The Spanish bank BBVA has launched a €6.4bn (£4.4bn) bid for Italy's BNL in a challenge to the Bank of Italy's efforts to keep Italian banks in domestic hands. The all-share bid also faces opposition from rebel shareholders who hold 24 per cent of BNL's shares and threaten to prevent BBVA meeting its condition of obtaining 50 per cent plus of the shares. If the bid succeeds, it would mark the first foreign takeover of an Italian bank.

Since BBVA - Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria - announced plans to buy the loss-making Italian bank on 18 March, Italian press reports have suggested that the country's central bank is trying to organise an Italian counter-bid for Banca Nazionale del Lavoro.

BBVA owns 14.75 per cent but controls 28 per cent of the Italian bank through agreements with other shareholders. Yesterday it offered one new BBVA share for every five BNL shares - a premium of 3.5 per cent on the previous day's closing price. The Bank of Italy now has 30 days to decide on the bid.

BBVA said it would issue 531 million new shares. It also plans to buy back up to 3.5 per cent of its own shares at a maximum of €14.5 before the end of September.

The rival bloc that controls 24 per cent of BNL said yesterday it would hold onto its shares. Vito Bonsignore, who is part of the rebel group, said, "We have said we are not selling ... [BBVA] should present a plan saying how it intends to bring BNL into profit."

Antonio Fazio, the Bank of Italy's governor who has opposed foreigners buying out Italian banks over the past few years, will come under increased scrutiny from the European Commission, which wants to see more cross-border deals. The Dutch bank ABN Amro is mulling a similar takeover bid for another Italian bank, Antonveneta, of which it already owns 13 per cent.