EXCLUSIVE-UniCredit expands search for buyers to sell outside of Russia – sources

* Work to reduce large Russian exposure

* Weighting options for local unit AO UniCredit Bank

* Investors in China, India and Turkey may be looking for bargains (updates with stock reaction)

By Giselda Vagnoni and Valentina Za

MILAN, June 6 (Reuters) – Italian bank UniCredit
has broadened its search for a buyer for its Russian business beyond local investors as it steps up efforts to leave the country, two people with knowledge of the matter said.

UniCredit has been talking to local bidders, but escalating Western sanctions have hampered those efforts, prompting it to expand the search to countries such as China and India, where one of the sources said buyers might be open to a bargain.

The second source said discussions with potential investors were taking place but did not name them.

Shares of UniCredit rose more than 2% in early trading on Monday, outperforming the sector.

UniCredit CEO Andrea Orcel told analysts in May that the sanctions had gradually reduced the chances of a deal with a Russian buyer, and “the window has become quite small.”

Russian businessman Vladimir Potanin, whose Interros holding company bought Societe Generale Russia’s Rosbank unit told the Interfax news agency in May that it had turned down a buyout offer also from the local branch of UniCredit.

The Italian lender is looking elsewhere, although a deal with Russia remains possible, the sources said, asking not to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue.

A UniCredit spokesperson declined to comment.

Investors in China, India or Turkey – countries that have not supported sanctions against Russia – could be interested in assets whose price has been lowered by the flight of Western firms following the war in Ukraine.

UniCredit is among the European banks with the most exposure to Russia, where it manages the country’s 14th largest lender.

European chief banking supervisor Andrea Enria said on Friday he hoped the bloc’s lenders would quickly see through their efforts to leave Russia.

Orcel, a former investment banker, used asset swaps, swapping, for example, a loan to a Russian company for a loan from a Russian bank to a European borrower, to reduce his exposure to Russia.

Twice, Orcel said, UniCredit was unable to finalize major deals to reduce exposure because its counterparty was hit with sanctions just before signing.

But Orcel this week dismissed concerns over Russia, saying it no longer posed a threat to UniCredit after it booked 1.2 billion euros ($1.3 billion) in provisions in the first quarter to offset losses. future.

While UniCredit said it was evaluating all options, including an exit from Russia, Orcel warned that extracting the bank would take time, given obligations to staff and customers and the desire to preserve shareholder value.

($1 = 0.9330 euros) (Reporting by Giselda Vagnoni in Rome and Valentina Za in Milan; editing by John O’Donnell, Barbara Lewis and Emelia Sithole-Matarise) (([email protected]; +39 02 6612 9526; )) Tags: UKRAINIAN CRISIS/UNICREDIT SALE (UPDATE 1, EXCLUSIVE, PIX)

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