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Italy’s UniCredit says Mustier to stay on as CEO

MILAN (Reuters) – Italy’s biggest bank UniCredit <CRDI.MI> said on Monday boss Jean Pierre Mustier had confirmed he would remain in his role, after a source told Reuters the French banker had ruled himself out for the top job at rival HSBC <HSBA.L>.

UniCredit shares came under pressure last week after media reports that said Mustier, 59, was a leading candidate to succeed HSBC interim CEO Noel Quinn, who is vying for the permanent job.

The stock fell 3.9% in early trade on Monday, outperforming a 4.8% slump in Italy’s banking sector <.FTIT8300> triggered by concerns over the economic fallout of an outbreak of the new coronavirus in the country.

UniCredit recently launched a new plan through 2023 and its “whole management team, including Jean Pierre Mustier, is fully focused on its successful execution”, the bank said in a statement.

“We consider the news positively as a potential CEO resignation would have reduced the credibility of the company’s business plan,” Banca IMI said in a research note.

Mustier arrived at UniCredit in mid-2016 and is widely credited with turning around the bank’s fortunes by shoring up its weak capital base, slashing costs and dealing with problem loans.

Under his management, the bank has also disposed of a raft of assets.

After failing to clinch a cross-border merger, Mustier has focused on boosting investor returns through dividends and buybacks to drive the bank’s share price higher.

UniCredit shares are up around 36% since Mustier’s arrival compared with a 10% rise in Europe’s banking index <.SX7P>.

Still, UniCredit trades below its book value like other European rivals, which are grappling with negative interest rates, the costs of digital transformation and rising competition from nimbler non-banking players.

News about Mustier comes amid a string of top executive changes in Europe. Swiss banks Credit Suisse <CSGN.S> and UBS <UBSG.S> both named new bosses this month. On Monday, the Financial Times newspaper reported that Barclays would start looking for a new CEO.

HSBC said last August it would appoint a new CEO within six to 12 months following the shock ouster of John Flint.

Quinn, the favorite for the role, last week announced plans for a major overhaul at the bank, its third since the financial crisis.

A source with knowledge of the matter told Reuters on Sunday that Mustier had ruled himself out of the race to take the helm at HSBC.

Two sources familiar with the matter had previously confirmed the Frenchman, formerly head of investment banking at Societe Generale <SOGN.PA>, was being considered.

(Reporting by Valentina Za; editing by Sam Holmes and Jason Neely)