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BlackRock Becomes UniCredit’s Biggest Investor With 5.2% Stake

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March 14 (Bloomberg) -- BlackRock Inc., the world’s largest money manager, increased its stake in UniCredit SpA to 5.2 percent, becoming the Italian lender’s biggest investor.

BlackRock had a stake of more than 5 percent as of March 7, according to a filing on Italian market regulator Consob’s website published today. That would make it the Milan-based bank’s largest shareholder, according to UniCredit’s website. The U.S. firm’s previous stake isn’t known as it opted for an exemption for disclosing stakes of between 2 percent and 5 percent, according to Consob’s website.

“Italian banks represent a good opportunity for foreign investors as recent clean-ups and their focus on commercial business make them more attractive,” Fabrizio Spagna, managing director at Axia Financial Research in Padua, Italy, said by phone. “With an improving economic environment, UniCredit and other lenders in the country appear very cheap.”

BlackRock joined foreign investors including Abu Dhabi-based sovereign wealth fund Aabar Investments PJS in buying shares of Italy’s biggest bank while the country’s banking foundations cut their stakes during the financial crisis. UniCredit Chief Executive Officer Federico Ghizzoni is cleaning up the balance sheet as the European Central Bank reviews lenders before taking over banking supervision in November.

The stock jumped 6.2 percent on March 11 even as the lender posted a record 15 billion-euro ($20.8 billion) loss on higher provisions for bad loans and a goodwill writedown.

Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio di Verona, Vicenza, Belluno e Ancona and Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio di Torino, long-time UniCredit investors, are now the third and seventh-biggest shareholders with respectively a 3.5 percent and 2.5 percent stakes, according to the bank’s website. Aabar holds 5.1 percent of UniCredit, while a Pamplona Capital Management LLP unit owns 5 percent.

To contact the reporter on this story: Sonia Sirletti in Milan at ssirletti@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Frank Connelly at fconnelly@bloomberg.net Marco Bertacche, Jerrold Colten, Dan Liefgreen

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