Amundi Said to Be in Lead to Buy UniCredit’s Pioneer Unit

(Bloomberg) -- French investment firm Amundi SA is the front-runner to buy Pioneer Global Asset Management SpA from UniCredit SpA, a business valued at as much as 3.5 billion euros ($3.7 billion), according to people familiar with the transaction.

Amundi is close to agreeing to the purchase in an offer that competed with an Italian consortium of Poste Italiane SpA, Anima Holding SpA and Cassa Depositi e Prestiti SpA, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the talks are private. No final agreement has been reached, and the offer may not proceed if markets are roiled by Italy’s constitutional referendum on Sunday, one person said, hours before exit polls showed voters strongly rejected the measure.

Amundi is set to pay more than 3 billion euros for Pioneer, according to the Financial Times, which reported on the bid earlier.

A purchase of Pioneer, which oversees about 226 billion euros, would be the biggest acquisition for Amundi and propel it into the top ranks of global money managers, with almost $1.4 trillion in assets. For UniCredit, the sale is needed to restore confidence in the Italian lender after a 59 percent decline in the shares this year. The bank is also considering raising capital as part of a business plan that is expected to be revealed on Dec. 13.

Renzi’s Defeat

But such efforts may run into market turmoil. After conceding defeat in Sunday’s constitutional referendum, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said he will resign, threatening to upset the nation’s political stability. Renzi had staked his job on passing the measure aimed at streamlining legislative decision making.

Pioneer’s assets are about 55 percent in fixed income, with most of the rest in equities and mixed-allocation products. A price tag of $3.7 billion would make it slightly more expensive relative to assets than Janus Capital Group Inc., the $195 billion Denver-based firm that hired Bill Gross from Pimco in 2014 and has a market value of $2.5 billion. Eaton Vance Corp., the Boston firm that oversees about $336 billion, is worth $4.5 billion.

Amundi was formed in 2010 when Credit Agricole SA and Societe Generale SA combined their asset-management units. Chief Executive Officer Yves Perrier, has said he wants to be a European competitor for U.S. giants like BlackRock Inc., the firm Larry Fink built into the world’s biggest money manager through a series of transformational acquisitions.

Pioneer’s Origins

The company went public last year to fund its expansion, allowing Societe Generale to sell its stake while Credit Agricole remains majority shareholder.

Pioneer, acquired by UniCredit in 2000, draws its origins from one of the oldest U.S. mutual funds, created in 1928 by Philip L. Carret, a financial reporter at business weekly Barron’s. In the 1960s, it was among the first American funds to start business in Italy and Germany.

Macquarie Group Ltd. and Ameriprise Financial Inc. had also submitted offers for Pioneer, a person with knowledge of the plan said earlier.

UniCredit put Pioneer back on the block after abandoning talks with Banco Santander SA to combine their asset management arms. In 2011, Amundi was among firms reported as looking into buying Pioneer as UniCredit had already looked at a potential disposal.