'Big shoes to fill': UniCredit shares tumble as CEO Mustier quits

Italy has been seeking buyer for Monte dei Paschi

  
Italy's largest bank UniCredit is pictured in downtown Milan September 12, 2013.

Italy's largest bank UniCredit is pictured in downtown Milan September 12, 2013.

REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini

MILAN- The abrupt resignation of Chief Executive Jean Pierre Mustier sent shares in UniCredit tumbling on Tuesday as investors fretted the Italian bank might now embark on a tricky takeover of state-backed Monte dei Paschi (MPS).

The former investment banker from France, who won respect across the industry for his four-year overhaul of the Italian lender, said on Monday he would leave at the end of his term in April after clashing with UniCredit's board over strategy.

Mustier, 59, ruled out mergers and acquisitions, setting him at odds with the consolidation fever sweeping Italy's fragmented banking sector. He pushed instead for returning cash to shareholders.

Italy has been seeking a buyer for MPS, which the state rescued in 2017, and sources said the government had identified UniCredit as the ideal partner.

UniCredit Chairman-elect Pier Carlo Padoan, a former Italian economy minister who oversaw the MPS bailout, and the board would now search for a new CEO, the bank said.

By 1226 GMT, shares in UniCredit were down 7.2% while shares in MPS rose 4.1% on speculation that Mustier's exit could facilitate a deal.

But two people familiar with the thinking on UniCredit's board said investors should not consider an MPS deal a foregone conclusion.

'BACKWARDS STEP'

David Moss, co-head of global equities at BMO GAM which holds a small stake in UniCredit, said Mustier had turned around the lender so if "he has left because he didn't agree with a proposed deal then this is clearly a big backwards step."

Mustier, who has said tie-ups "were no panacea" for the industry, had been reluctant to take on loss-making MPS which for years has been at the fore of Italy's banking crisis. He set strict terms for a deal in talks with Rome, sources had said.

People familiar with the matter said Mustier faced increasing discontent over his failure to lift UniCredit's share price and lack of a clear strategy, after a pandemic-driven dividend ban derailed plans to return more cash to shareholders.

Piling pressure on Mustier, Intesa Sanpaolo overtook UniCredit in the summer as Italy's No. 1 bank by snapping up peer UBI.

JP Morgan said the successor to Mustier, who this year turned down the top job at global giant HSBC, would "have big shoes to fill given Mustier's strong track record on cost management and delivering on targets."

But they said a new CEO would benefit from Mustier's revamp of the bank and a stronger balance sheet.

UniCredit is the latest major European bank to announce a CEO departure this year, with Credit Suisse, UBS, ING, Commerzbank and Lloydsall making leadership changes.

Credit Suisse said on Tuesday Lloyds CEO Antonio Horta-Osorio would become its new chairman next year, a day after the British lender said the Portuguese banker was to be replaced by HSBC's wealth and personal banking head Charlie Nunn.

(Additional reporting by Andrea Mandala and Danilo Masoni; Editing by Edmund Blair) ((valentina.za@thomsonreuters.com; +39 02 6612 9526;))

More From Business