By Valentina Za
MILAN (Reuters) -Italy’s No.2 bank UniCredit raised on Wednesday its 2022 outlook after a surprisingly strong second quarter in which it cut its exposure to Russia and moved ahead with a proposed share buyback it had put on hold.
CEO Andrea Orcel told reporters the lender was better placed than some of it rivals to withstand the economic damage from the Ukraine war, and this may open up merger and acquisition opportunities.
UniCredit is confident of delivering the “the majority” of a 2021-2024 capital distribution target of more than 16 billion euros even in an economic recession, Orcel said.
“We’re very confident on the quality of our balance sheet … we’re very comfortable with our capital, provisions … operating performance, with how we can manage and go through this crisis,” Orcel said.
“I don’t think everyone is in the same position and so it may be that (M&A) opportunities open at the right time and if they do we’ll be ready.”
Meanwhile, UniCredit sought supervisory approval for a 1 billion euro share buyback it had frozen pending more clarity on Russia, after completing a first 1.6 billion euro tranche in mid-July.
The growing fears of families and firms as growth falters and inflation soars will seep through into third quarter results given greater wariness in financial decisions, Orcel said.
UniCredit, whose shares shot up 7% on Wednesday, forecasts a full-year profit excluding Russia of around 4 billion euros from a previous indication of more than 3.3 billion, as rising interest rates support income from lending.
A bigger-than-expected rise in interest income drove second quarter revenues up 9% year-on-year, despite a quarterly drop in fees amid tough markets.
Net profit for April-June came in at 2 billion euros ($2 billion), double the average analyst forecast and the previous year’s figure, helped by the release of loan loss provisions.
Core capital strengthened to 15.73% of assets from 14% at the end of March.
UniCredit, one of Europe’s banks more exposed to Russia where it runs a top-15 lender, cut 2.7 billion euros in Russian assets in the quarter, partly through early repayments or cancelling letter of credits as business dried up.
Orcel said a further reduction in the bank’s Russian exposure had taken place since the end of June.
Having failed to extricate itself early from Russia and slammed as “morally wrong” a sale for a token price like the one agreed by rival Societe Generale, UniCredit continues to explore potential “fair” transactions with buyers from non-hostile countries to exit the country.
Orcel said threats by Russia’s government to block sales of local subsidiaries by foreign banks had not altered the picture because the central bank reserved the right to vet each transaction on a case by case basis, and even before any sale would be subject to the central bank’s approval.
($1 = 0.9854 euros)
(Editing by Giulia Segreti, Jason Neely and Jacqueline Wong)