Italy's Cerved gets $2.2 billion bid from ION, Singapore's GIC

By Elisa Anzolin and Valentina Za

MILAN (Reuters) - ION Group has made a takeover offer worth 1.86 billion euros ($2.2 billion) for Milan-based Cerved, just days after the privately-owned fintech company snapped up Italian banking software provider Cedacri.

Dublin-based ION, led by Italian businessman Andrea Pignataro, has teamed up with Singapore's sovereign wealth fund GIC for the Cerved bid, which sent shares in the Italian credit analysis and management group up nearly 20% in line with the offer price.

ION plans to pay 9.5 euros a share, representing a 43% premium on the share's average price over the last 12 months.

Cerved declined to comment on the offer.

Cerved shares had soared 14.6% on Monday after the company confirmed talks with private equity funds to sell its bad loan collection business, which was first reported by Reuters at the weekend.

ION's bid proposal includes financing from Italian state-backed fund FSI, whose involvement according to broker Equita reduced risks that the Italian government could step in with its "golden powers" that allows it to veto deals in sectors of strategic national interest.

Cerved has long been seen as a takeover target. In 2019, U.S. private equity firm Advent sought to take the company private in a 1.85 billion euro bid that was dropped when reports of the approach boosted Cerved's share price.

ION said in a statement on Tuesday it was committed to supporting Cerved's current business plan, leveraging its expertise in the software and data analysis sectors, while it did not rule out overhauling Cerved's operations in the future.

Cerved runs both a credit data analysis and a loan collection business, which it has been trying to sell after losing a long-term contract with bank Monte dei Paschi and failing to expand the division's activity into Greece.

Under Pignataro, ION has grown through acquisitions, culminating in last week's 1.5 billion euro Cedacri deal.

Prior to that, ION in 2019 had taken a majority stake in financial news company Acuris for 1.35 billion pounds and bought trading software firm Fidessa for 1.5 billion pounds in 2018.

ION is bidding for Cerved through investment vehicle Castor, controlled by FermION Investment group, of which ION holds 85.75% and GIC 10%. Institutional investors own the remaining 4.25%. Financing from FSI can be converted into an indirect stake in Castor.

The offer is conditional on Castor securing at least 90% of Cerved's shares, but the threshold condition can be waived. Cerved will be delisted if the offer is successful.

Credit Suisse, Intesa Sanpaolo, Sociedad De Valores and Goldman Sachs acted as ION's financial advisers; Cleary Gottlieb and Chiomenti as legal advisers.

(Additional reporting by Elvira Pollina and Giulia Segreti; editing by Lincoln Feast, Jason Neely and Jane Merriman)