MILAN, March 3 (Reuters) – Italian businessman Francesco Gaetano Caltagirone, a leading investor in insurer Generali, has bought 1% of Milanese merchant bank Mediobanca, a regulatory filing shows, stoking speculation about the future of two of Italy’s most prized financial firms.
After slightly increasing his stake in recent months, Caltagirone holds 5.65% of Generali, making him the second-largest investor behind Mediobanca, which in turn owns 13% of Italy’s biggest insurer.
Caltagirone’s investment in both Mediobanca and Generali mirrors a move by fellow Italian billionaire Leonardo Del Vecchio, the 85-year-old founder of spectacles giant Luxottica.
Del Vecchio is the third-largest investor in Generali, and, having secured European Central Bank clearance to hold up to a fifth of Mediobanca, has built up a 13% stake to emerge as its biggest shareholder.
People close to the matter have said Del Vecchio’s Mediobanca investment is ultimately aimed at strengthening his hand at Generali, which one person familiar with the matter on Wednesday said could also be Caltagirone’s goal.
Caltagirone declined to comment.
Both Del Vecchio and Caltagirone have criticised some of Generali Chief Executive Philippe Donnet’s moves ahead of his mandate coming up for renewal in spring 2022.
In a bid to improve his chances of winning another term, Donnet recently launched a reorganisation of Generali, with his trusted No.2 Frederic de Courtois leaving the group.
Sources have said both Del Vecchio and Caltagirone raised concerns about French nationals holding the two top positions at Generali.
The insurer is viewed as a strategic financial asset in Italy, partly due to its large holdings of domestic government bonds, stirring concerns among politicians about potential takeovers given a market capitalisation which is half that of French rival AXA and less than a third of German peer Allianz.
Del Vecchio has ruled out seeking to steer Generali towards a merger with a foreign rival, despite his ambition for it to play a leading role in the European market again. (Additional reporting and writing by Valentina Za, editing by Agnieszka Flak, Kirsten Donovan)