Italian finance has always had its fixers, from Cosimo de Medici to Enrico Cuccia. The latest contender is eyewear tycoon Leonardo Del Vecchio. The octogenarian is raising his stake in Mediobanca, a powerful homegrown investment bank, to almost 12 per cent.
Having made billions from Luxottica, the business he founded, Mr Del Vecchio can be expected to tilt institutions he touches towards wealth management. There is plenty of lucre to steward within Italy’s robust family business sector. Delfin, Mr Del Vecchio’s investment vehicle, has almost tripled its money on eyewear over 10 years. The Italian bourse has returned just half.
Mr Del Vecchio has approval to increase his Mediobanca stake to just under 20 per cent, the bid threshold. Through Mediobanca, his reach may extend to insurer Generali, in which the bank owns a stake, as does Delfin separately. Mr Del Vecchio has also long owned just under 2 per cent of UniCredit, which is under government pressure to take over weaker lender, Monte dei Paschi di Siena.
A combination of UniCredit with Mediobanca would have fewer messy overlaps. But Mr del Vecchio would prefer Mediobanca to expand in wealth management, which last year produced about 10 per cent of its operating income. He believes Italian families have more than €4tn in savings and are weary of low-yielding bonds. He likely wants Mediobanca to make an acquisition.
Banca Generali, Generali’s majority-held and well-regarded wealth manager, is often mooted. A share swap between Mediobanca and Generali might do the trick. But the business supplies its parent with growing dividends, curbing Generali’s enthusiasm for a deal.
Asset gatherer Fineco has a strong online presence and may be another target. But it would bring few clients and is pricey at 27 times forward earnings. Otherwise, Mr Del Vecchio could wait for a bank such as Bper to merge with a peer and divest wealth arm Arca, which has about €30bn of client assets.
Mr Del Vecchio can afford to watch and wait. He may not be a prince like Cosimo, but he has potential as a kingmaker.
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