BlackRock backs Bolton against Italian civil suit

Suzie Neuwirth

BLACKROCK said it has conducted a full internal investigation and found no evidence to support allegations that fund manager Nigel Bolton is guilty of insider trading.

It emerged on Friday that Consob, the Italian securities regulator, had launched civil proceedings against Bolton, a portfolio manager and head of BlackRock Investment Management’s European equity team, accusing him of using non-public information to sell around 2.3 per cent of Saipem’s stock last January, just before the Italian oil services company issued a profit warning.

Such matters would usually remain private, but Consob’s letter was leaked to an Italian blog at the end of last month, before BlackRock received it, City A.M. understands.

“BlackRock conducted a thorough investigation and found there is no evidence to support the allegations,” said the asset manager in a statement.

“We believe we have fully cooperated with Consob, and we will continue to do so…None of our clients nor any of our funds will be affected by these proceedings.”

Troubled Saipem has had its fair share of scandals of late, including an investigation into corrupt practices that prompted the resignation of its chief executive Pietro Franco Tali. The firm, which issued two profit warnings last year, denies any wrongdoing with regard to the probe.

Following the internal investigation, BlackRock believes the sale was made on widely available public information, as a number of analysts had been steadily reducing their earnings estimates on Saipem.

The final straw was thought to be a Barclays analyst’s research report which slashed its earnings estimates on the stock.

BlackRock is believed to have total confidence in Bolton and his team. Bolton will maintain in control of his multi-billion pound portfolio.

It is understood that there has been no dialogue yet between BlackRock and Bolton’s other clients as news of the dispute broke late on Friday.

Consob was unavailable for comment yesterday.

Bolton is generally heralded as one of the UK’s leading fund managers, having demonstrated a stellar performance in his roles as chief investment officer of International Fundamental Equity and head of BlackRock’s European equity team.

He is responsible for the team investment process and business development and for the management of pan-European portfolios, adopting a flexible style.

He was awarded the Morningstar Fund Manager of the Year award in the European equity category last March, where he was praised for building one of the strongest European equity teams in the market.

Prior to joining BlackRock in 2008, Bolton was director and head of European Equities at Scottish Widows Investment Partnership (SWIP). Prior to joining SWIP in 2004, he was with WP Stewart (Europe), as head of European investments.

From 1992 to 2003, Bolton was with Citigroup Global Asset Management, where he was a managing director and head of European Equities.

Previously, he was a portfolio manager with Abbey Life Investment Services, and investment analyst with BZW and Redmayne Bentley where he began his career in 1985.