Exclusive-Italy moves to keep asset manager Anima in domestic hands -sources

By Giuseppe Fonte and Valentina Za

ROME/MILAN (Reuters) -Italy favours keeping Anima Holding in domestic hands and could raise the stake in the country's biggest independent asset manager it holds through the national post office Poste Italiane, two people close to the matter said.

Anima aims to remain independent and develop its own business, a strategy which the Treasury views favourably, the sources said, asking not to be named because discussions are confidential. Both companies declined to comment.

Shares in Anima rose as much as 7% and stood up 3.6% by 0728 GMT, against a 0.5% drop in the Milan market.

The possibility of closer ties between Poste and Anima, which had been explored in the past, has been dusted off due to speculation in recent months about potential foreign interest for Anima.

Under so-called "golden powers" legislation, Italy reserves the right to scrutinise foreign and domestic bids in sectors deemed of strategic importance such as energy, telecoms, banking and insurance, health and food.

Marking a break with previous administrations, Prime Minister Mario Draghi's government has used golden powers to set conditions on scores of deals.

Nationalist Giorgia Meloni, who led a right-wing alliance to victory at elections on Sept. 25 and is expected to be named prime minister this month, is set to move along the same path, a separate political source said.

Anima is currently discussing strengthening its commercial ties with state-owned bank Monte dei Paschi di Siena as part of talks to invest in an up to 2.5 billion euro ($2.5 billion) new share issue at the Tuscan bank.

Anima's involvement in Monte dei Paschi's capital raising is seen in Rome as part of wider efforts to protect the asset manager's independence, one of the sources said.

Talks are still ongoing and plans not yet final, the people said.

Back in 2015, Monte dei Paschi had sold its 10.3% stake in Anima to Poste Italiane, which is currently Anima's second-biggest shareholder behind Italian bank Banco BPM.

Poste and Anima are tied also by a long-term asset management partnership.

In 2017, Poste and Anima teamed up to bid for the asset management business of UniCredit but lost out to French asset manager Amundi.

An investment by Amundi in Anima back in May, which came a month after Amundi's owner Credit Agricole became the biggest investor in bank Banco BPM, had sparked concerns in Italy about the French banking group's potential expansion plans.

Amundi has said the stake in Anima was held on behalf of third parties and denied any interest in a takeover.

A potential foreign bid for Anima was discussed at a meeting among representatives from the asset manager and Treasury officials which took place at the ministry over the summer, the sources said without detailing.

With 204 billion euros of assets under management at the end of last year, Milan-based Anima is an important player in a country where households' financial wealth totals 5 trillion euros and government bonds stand at 2.3 trillion. ($1 = 1.0084 euros)

(Editing by Nick Zieminski and Jason Neely)