Groupama is a serious option on the Italian Fonsi

After weeks of rumors and speculation in the Italian business community, Groupama plays its hand. The group led by Jean Azema decided to offer a serious option to the insurer Alpine Fonsi, buying into Premafin. Premafin is a holding company that the Ligresti family owns the majority of shares in. On Friday they announced a capital increase of EUR 226 million and Groupama is involved up to 145 million euros. The Ligresti family, who hold 51% of Premafin shares said they had “Accepted the proposal made by Groupama to enter as a minority shareholder of the corporation”. To do this, they will sell their subscription rights and dilute their shares to 34% Eventually the French will own a 17% stake in Premafin. Groupama will have the opportunity to appoint “At least one member” to the Board of Directors. Moreover, and this is the heart of the agreement, the Ligresti family committed for a period of two years not to sell shares of Premafin and not cede control “Directly or indirectly” of Fonsi and its main subsidiary, Milano Assicurazioni. Beyond this period, Groupama “Must be consulted” if one member of the shareholders wishes to sell shares of Premafin.

Contrary to what it said until recently, Groupama has offered the services of Vincent Bolloré in this operation. On Thursday, at the General Assembly of the investment bank Mediobanca, everything was concluded between the investor Brittany and the Ligresti family. Jean Azema, who is a director of Mediobanca (Groupama owns nearly 5% of capital), was absenteven though as he has attended every meeting in Milan. The skipper of preferred to leave the negotiation to Vincent Bollore, who knows Italy well.

In any case, Groupama has set foot in the Fonsi door which has a priority target to invest in Italy, its second major market after France. The group made no official comment, but confirmed that  its ambition is to become one of the top five insurers on the other side of the Alps, along with Generali, Unipol, Mediolanum and Allianz. After merging the local activities of the former GAN with Nuova Tirrena, a company which Generali purchased in 2007, there is a network of 840 branches and a turnover of 1.4 billion euros, 80% of which is in general insurance. In addition, Fonsi awash in debt of 1.8 billion euros and 145 million loss suffered in the first half of 2010. For the Ligresti family, this deal has is apparently a breath of life.

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