Azimut Targets Italy Asset Management Company From Bank

Azimut Holding SpA, Italy’s largest independent asset manager, is interested in buying a fund unit from a bank to expand distribution and attract client investments.

“We need an asset-management company with its own distribution network in Italy, owned by a bank,” Chief Executive Officer Pietro Giuliani said in an interview in Milan. “We are looking for a big acquisition in Italy, and should an interesting opportunity arise we could raise money through a convertible bond issue or a rights offer.”

Azimut has about 550 million euros ($752 million) of cash available, and a transaction may be closed this year or next, Giuliani said. While the Milan-based company isn’t in talks with potential sellers, it is “open to negotiations with banks interested in selling their asset-management companies, and setting up a long-term distribution agreement with the banks themselves.”

The firm would consider talks with companies including Banco Popolare SC, should the Verona, Italy-based lender want to dispose of its Aletti-Gestielle asset-management unit, the CEO said. Banco Popolare announced plans last week to sell as much as 1.5 billion euros of stock to repay debt and boost capital. A Banco Popolare spokesman didn’t immediately comment when reached by phone.

Shares Advance

“A potential big acquisition in Italy could be a catalyst for 2014,” Elena Perini, a Milan-based analyst at Banca IMI SpA, wrote in a note today. “We consider it more as an opportunity than a risk, as we believe that management would finalize it only on condition of value accretion for shareholders.”

Azimut rose as much as 4.4 percent in Milan trading and was up 4.2 percent to 21.35 euros by 4:58 p.m. The stock advanced 66 percent in the past 12 months, giving the company a market value of about 3 billion euros.

Azimut is working on a business plan that will be released by this fall, Giuliani said. The company, which expects to report 2013 net income of 145 million euros to 160 million euros, forecast a profit for 2014 in line with the average estimate of 175 million euros from eight analysts surveyed by Bloomberg.

The company plans a dividend on 2013 earnings in line with last year, “unless extraordinary operations materialize in the meantime, absorbing cash,” the CEO said. Last year Azimut paid a dividend of 55 cents a share.

Outside Italy

Giuliani is targeting total new client investments of 2.5 billion euros to 3 billion euros in 2014, assuming current market conditions, compared with 3.2 billion euros last year.

“We are also satisfied on how we’ve started 2014, with net inflows of above 280 million euros in the first 15 days,” Giuliani said in a statement today.

The firm ended 2013 with 24 billion euros under management, and had net income of 110 million euros in the first nine months of last year.

The CEO intends to expand operations in Latin America, Asia and the Middle East.

Azimuth’s activities outside Italy, ranging from Brazil and Turkey to Singapore and China, “already exceeded break-even and are expected to account for 10 percent of assets under management this year,” Giuliani said. “Assets abroad may exceed assets under management from Italian clients in five to 10 years.”

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