Ferrero has time to formulate Parmalat deal: Intesa

By Stefano Bernabei

ROME (Reuters) – An Italian decree restricting foreign takeovers opens the way for long-term investment by food group Ferrero in dairy company Parmalat SpA (PLT.MI: Quote, Profile, Research), the head of bank Intesa Sanpaolo SpA (ISP.MI: Quote, Profile, Research) said on Thursday.

The center-right government approved a decree on Wednesday bolstering Italian food, energy, defense and telecoms companies against foreign takeovers. The move could stymie a bid by French dairy company Lactalis to get control of Parmalat, Italy’s biggest listed food group.

Intesa Sanpaolo Chief Executive Corrado Passera said the decree gave Parmalat more time to form an Italian consortium. The move lets Parmalat postpone to June an April 14 shareholders meeting where Lactalis could seal its control of the board.

“The fact of having a bit of time is one of the positive pre-conditions, which is now in place,” Corrado Passera, who has been involved in trying to set up an Italian consortium, told reporters.

“Now the conditions for a valid initiative are there,” he said, citing Ferrero’s commitment to a “long-term industrial project.” Intesa Sanpaolo owns 2.4 percent of Parmalat.

Lactalis raised its stake in Parmalat, known for its long-life milk, on Tuesday to 29 percent, just below the 30 percent threshold for a buyout offer.

France’s Les Echos newspaper said Ferrero met Lactalis’s owners in Paris this week to consider a possible acquisition of the French group’s stake, but did not reach an agreement.The story was in line with a report by Reuters on Wednesday.

Ferrero also proposed setting up a common holding company with Lactalis, the newspaper said, without citing its sources. The holding could attract other investors such as Italian dairy group Granarolo, Intesa Sanpaolo and banks Mediobanca (MDBI.MI: Quote, Profile, Research) and possibly Unicredit (CRDI.MI: Quote, Profile, Research).

A Lactalis spokesman declined to comment. A Ferrero spokesman was not immediately available to comment.

Shares in Parmalat were up 1.05 percent at 2.34 euros at 1100 GMT. The STOXX Europe 600 food and beverage index (.SX3P: Quote, Profile, Research) was unchanged.

(Additional reporting by Dominique Vidalon in Paris and by Ian Simpson in Milan; Editing by Mike Nesbit)

Ferrero has time to formulate Parmalat deal: Intesa