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MILAN (Reuters) - Italy's biggest bank by assets UniCredit (CRDI.MI) sold a 20 percent stake in its online broker business FinecoBank (FBK.MI), raising 552 million euros ($618 million) as it seeks to bolster its financial strength.
UniCredit had already placed a 10 percent stake in the unit in July just as it launched a strategic in-depth review under its new chief executive Jean-Pierre Mustier in an attempt to boost capital and improve profitability.
Earlier this month sources said UniCredit was holding informal talks with several banks to gauge interest in a bid for Fineco but added the parties remained far apart on price.
In an apparent change of tack, UniCredit said that after Wednesday's placement it would continue to "control and consolidate" Fineco on its accounts through its remaining 35 percent stake and had committed to a lock-up period of 360 days.
No further sale would take place during that period without the consent of investment bank UBS (UBSG.S) on behalf of the joint book-runners who handled the transaction, it said in a statement.
The placement with institutional investors took place at 4.55 euros per share, a 5 percent discount to Wednesday's closing price of 4.788 euros.
The 10 percent stake sold in July had fetched 5.4 euros per share - or 328 million euros - but the broker's stock has dropped since then.
Sources have said UniCredit may need to raise as much as 16 billion euros through asset disposals and a planned share sale.
One source close to the matter said on Wednesday UniCredit was still considering a sale of FinecoBank and could clinch a deal in the near term regardless of the lock-up period.
additional reporting by Elisa Anzolin in Milan and Pamela Barbaglia in London; Editing by Adrian Croft