Belgium (Brussels Morning Newspaper) Italy’s second-largest lender UniCredit has reportedly widened its search for a potential buyer of its Russian business, and is now looking to investors situated beyond Russian borders, such as in China or India.
The lender has been seeking to sell off its assets in Russia since March, but its attempts were primarily focused on finding potential local buyers. Speaking to analysts in May, UniCredit CEO Andrea Orcel said that the western sanctions imposed on Russia were progressively reducing the chances of finding a Russian buyer.
French Société Générale sold its local banking business, the Rosbank, to the Interros holding company, owned by Russian businessman Vladimir Potanin. Despite talks that Potanin might step up as the buyer or UniCredit’s local business as well, the tycoon told Russian Interfax news agency in May that he had turned down such a proposal.
While waiting for the buyer, Orcel resorted to using asset swaps to reduce UniCredit’s exposure to Russia – exchanging, for instance, a loan granted to a Russian company for a loan granted to a European company by a Russian bank.
According to Orcel, such asset swaps failed on at least two occasions, when a major deal with a Russian lender fell through at the last minute because it was hit by western sanctions just before signing.
According to Reuters, investors in China, India or Turkey could be interested in the bank’s Russian assets, jumping to take advantage of the plummeting price resulting from the exodus of western companies from Russia ever since it launched an invasion on Ukraine in February.
According to company sources cited by Reuters, UniCredit is now looking for buyers outside of Russia, though the lender is still hoping that a feasible deal within Russia remains possible. Its Russian operation is the country’s 14th-largest bank, which makes UniCredit the single western bank most exposed to Russia.