JPMorgan, the US investment bank that has been assisting ABN Amro in its contested effort to buy Banca Antonveneta, has been making share trades that could have helped ABN's rivals increase their stakes in the Italian bank.
ABN recently completed a share offer, partly underwritten by JPMorgan, which raised €2.5bn ($3.2bn) towards its €6.3bn bid for Antonveneta. It emerged this week that JPMorgan had also acquired a 2 per cent block of Antonveneta shares and had been honouring an agreement to sell shares in the Italian bank to others. Meanwhile Banca Popolare di Lodi, an Italian bank that has been building a stake in Antonveneta and approaching other investors, revealed again yesterday that it had increased its Antonveneta stake, following pressure to disclose from Consob, the market regulator.
Lodi now owns close to 11 per cent of Antonveneta, up from 2 per cent at the start of the year. ABN Amro is still formally Antonveneta's largest shareholder with nearly 13 per cent but Lodi has offered a line of credit to the Benetton family which could see Lodi assume the 5 per cent of Antonveneta shares owned by the family.
Lodi repeated on Wednesday that it had no other accords with Antonveneta shareholders, and distanced its activities from “intermediary” sales, a phrase that could refer to the JPMorgan share sales. There is no suggestion that JPMorgan has been engaged in wrongdoing but the situation is awkward and has raised concerns at ABN Amro, people close to the transactions said.
JPMorgan had signed a forward contract involving Antonveneta shares with a third party some time before it was hired by ABN Amro as one of the underwriters on the recent deal, the people said.
JPMorgan would not say on Wednesday to whom it had sold its shares, and it pledged not to become involved in similar situations again. “We have fulfilled a previously agreed commitment to sell Antonveneta shares to a counter-party. With that obligation now honoured, we will not be taking on any new commitments that might disadvantage our client.”
Though the money raising exercise is complete, ABN Amro said on Wednesday that JPMorgan had been hired for a role in Italy in connection with the collection of Antonveneta shares during the tender offer. It added: “At this moment we have no reason to change anything with regards to the arrangements for the tender offer in terms of the parties involved.”