DEALTALK-Natixis could be good fit for UniCredit’s Pioneer

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* Amundi, private equity also made approaches on Pioneer

* BNP Paribas also could look at JV, merger

* Only declared interest in Pioneer from Natixis

By Ian Simpson and Victoria Howley

MILAN/LONDON, Aug 16 (BestGrowthStock) – French investment bank
Natixis (CNAT.PA: ) could emerge from a crowd of potential bidders
as the best fit for Pioneer as Italy’s UniCredit SpA (CRDI.MI: )
seeks a partner to transform its mid-tier asset manager.

French asset manager Amundi and some of the larger private
equity firms have also made unsolicited approaches to Pioneer
and Bank of America’s (BAC.N: ) Merrill Lynch, which is conducting
a strategic review of the business, bankers advising European
financial services said.

“Pioneer has an attractive U.S. mutual fund business and
there will be plenty of interest for that,” a senior banker
focused on the asset management industry said.

Natixis, France’s BNP Paribas (BNPP.PA: ) and Amundi could
look at a potential joint venture or merger with Pioneer,
Italy’s number two asset manager, one source said.

Private equity firms like CVC Capital Partners [CVC.UL],
Kohlberg Kravis Roberts and Co [KKR.UL], Hellman and Friedman,
TPG Capital [TPG.UL] and TA Associates could take a stake or
team up to acquire the business, the bankers added.

Although bankers said Amundi would be very interested in a
Pioneer deal, an analyst said the French asset manager was still
working through the 2009 joint venture deal by Credit Agricole
(CAGR.PA: ) and Societe Generale (SOGN.PA: ) that created it.

“It is probably not the right time,” he said.

Only Natixis has openly declared interest in Pioneer. As one
of the world’s 20 biggest asset managers, Natixis could be well
placed to help UniCredit Chief Executive Alessandro Profumo
reach his goal of turning Pioneer into an international player.

“CHICKEN FEED”

French newspaper Les Echos this month suggested a Pioneer
valuation of 1.5 billion euros ($1.9 billion) to 2.5 billion
euros.

The figure is well below the 3.5 billion euros to 4 billion
euros suggested by Italy’s Banca Leonardo this year, equating to
about 2 percent of funds under management.

“I’d have said that if UniCredit wanted to do a deal, 1.5 to
2.5 billion (euros) for that balance sheet is chicken feed,”
said John Arnold, chief investment officer at AGF International
Advisors in Dublin. He oversees funds with about 31 million
UniCredit shares, according to Thomson Reuters data.

For Natixis, Pioneer would give it reach into eastern
Europe, Italy and Germany. At about 500 billion euros, Natixis
has almost three times Pioneer’s assets under management (AUM),
with about 37 percent of the AUM in the United States.

“In the U.S., there will … be synergies from the product
range of Natixis. It’s a distribution story,” said
Pierre-Alexandre Pechmeze, an analyst with Oddo Securities.

EXPRESSIONS OF INTEREST

Pioneer is one of the top 20 European asset managers, with
185 billion euros of AUM. It oversees the Pioneer Fund, the
third-oldest mutual fund in the U.S., and is present in 19
countries.

Profumo said this month the bank had received several
expressions of interest and would move forward on Pioneer in
September.

Natixis Chief Executive Laurent Mignon told a conference
call this month it “makes strategic sense” to look at Pioneer as
Natixis sought to become a global leader in the sector.

Les Echos named Natixis and fellow French bank BNP Paribas
(BNPP.PA: ) and Amundi as interested in Pioneer.

Natixis “makes sense. It (the best candidate) is either a
sort of independent bank, such as that one, or somebody much
bigger, a U.S. or UK independent that probably doesn’t have the
cash right now,” said an analyst.

Natixis would have enough cash to buy more than half of
Pioneer, he said. Pioneer thus would not be consolidated into
UniCredit, benefiting the bank’s capital ratios.

Eurizon, asset manager of Italy’s biggest retail bank Intesa
Sanpaolo SpA (ISP.MI: ), also has been mentioned by market
watchers as a good pick for Pioneer, at least on paper.

However, potential antitrust issues as well as rivalries
between the two banks and their politically connected
shareholder foundations would make that deal a non-starter,
analysts said.
(Additional reporting by Lionel Laurent in Paris; Editing by
Sharon Lindores)
($1=.7804 Euro)

DEALTALK-Natixis could be good fit for UniCredit’s Pioneer