Barclays heads to Italy in its hunt for cut-price branches

BARCLAYS is in talks to buy 135 Italian branches from Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena (BMPS), as it looks to bolster its presence in Western Europe.<br /><br />The bank is due to meet top BMPS bosses in Siena, accompanied by advisers from Morgan Stanley, in the next few days. <br /><br />BMPSis being forced to offload the branches after being found to be in breach of Italian antitrust rules.<br /><br />Talk has centred around a price of &euro;4m (&pound;3.7m) per branch, totalling &euro;540m for the assets, but City A.M. understands Barclays chief executive John Varley is looking for a bargain price as BMPS is a forced seller. <br /><br />BMPS wanted &euro;5m a branch from Barclays, as it has recently sold other branches at that price. <br /><br />Barclays has stressed that while it is looking to make bolt-on acquisitions in Europe it will only do so at the right price. <br /><br />A deal is not imminent and the UK bank is also in talks to buy branches from other banks to build up its Italian presence, it is understood.<br /><br />BMPS has to sell the branches by mid-December as a condition from Italy&rsquo;s antitrust authority of its Antonveneta acquisition. <br /><br />A Milan-based bank analyst said other banks might be interested in buying the BMPS assets, including Deutsche Bank.<br /><br />Barclays has targeted northern Italy as a key growth area. It currently has 256 distribution outlets in Italy, including about 150 branches, up from 49 in mid-2007. BMPS and Barclays declined to comment.