March 6, 2020 / 9:41 AM / a month ago

UPDATE 2-Poste raises targets, vows to keep mail moving despite coronavirus

(Recasts story to add details on coronavirus measures)

By Francesca Landini

MILAN, March 6 (Reuters) - Italian post office operator Poste Italiane pledged to keep mail deliveries and automatic teller services working as it raised its full year sales and earnings targets despite the country experiencing Europe’s most severe coronavirus outbreak.

The group said restructuring carried out in recent years had bolstered it against shocks such as the coronavirus, which has seen the stock market plunge and sent industries from tourism to fashion into crisis.

Poste’s targets are based on the assumption that the virus emergency will be gone with the summer, CEO Matteo Del Fante said, adding the board had discussed results on Thursday with its directors in seven different rooms to limit personal contacts.

The group, which has a network of 13,000 branches all over Italy, said services would be maintained while ensuring that direct contact was limited between staff and customers.

“The authority for communication (AGCOM) has given the green light to avoid direct contact between the postmen and the recipients, even for registered mail,” Poste Managing Director Giuseppe Lasco told reporters during a call on 2019 results.

“All our branches in the worst-hit regions have face masks for their employees.”

Italy had confirmed 4,636 cases of the virus and 197 deaths as of Friday.

To try to contain the outbreak, Italian authorities sealed off a handful of towns in Lombardy and Veneto regions at the end of February.

In addition, the government has this week closed schools throughout the country until March 15, told Italians not to shake hands or hug each other and to keep a distance of at least one metre (yard) from other people.

Poste said it had reopened four branches located in the towns under quarantine, adding its customers could also withdraw or deposit funds through an additional 1,000 ATMs it installed in towns in remote parts of the Italian territory.

In recent years the state-controlled group has expanded from postal services to become a conglomerate comprising insurance and financial divisions, the traditional mail and parcel business and a digital payments unit.

“Poste Italiane is a resilient business thanks to its diversified business model and is well positioned to face stress scenarios, such as the COVID-19 situation,” Del Fante said.

Shares in Poste rose 3% on Friday while the Milan blue-chip index ended down 3.5%. (Reporting by Francesca Landini; editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise, Kirsten Donovan)

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