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By Silvia Aloisi
MILAN, Oct 10 (Reuters) - UniCredit, Italy's biggest bank by assets, will decide by next week whether to go ahead with the sale of its bad loans unit, UniCredit Credit Management Bank (UCCMB), its CEO said.
The sale, which could yield around 700 million euros ($882 million), was part of UniCredit's plan to strengthen its balance sheet ahead of the outcome of a Europe-wide bank asset review.
"By mid-October we will decide whether to go ahead with one buyer or stop the process," Chief Executive Federico Ghizzoni told reporters in Milan in comments embargoed to Friday. "We are in the final days."
A consortium comprising U.S. asset manager Fortress and Italian property group Prelios is in pole position to buy the unit, three sources close to the matter told Reuters on Friday.
Fortress and Prelios are pitted against a group of investors led by U.S. private equity fund Lone Star after UniCredit drew up a shortlist of potential bidders last month.
Two other people familiar with the deal said the lender still planned to go ahead with the sale and aimed to finalise a deal by the end of November.
"The two offers have been received. They are interesting and there is room to improve them," said one of the sources.
A decision could be taken at a board meeting on Oct. 16 or at another one on Nov. 11.
UCCMB manages more than 40 billion euros of non-performing loans that belong to both UniCredit and to third parties.
Ghizzoni said the bank was in talks to sell more bad loans portfolios but did not envisage further disposals of units after listing just over a third of its online bank Fineco this summer and starting talks with Santander to merge its fund Pioneer with the Spanish bank's own asset managing business.
The Pioneer deal is expected to be signed by the end of November.
Ghizzoni also said that UniCredit could strengthen its foothold in Asia, Latin America and the Middle East, not through acquisitions but by opening more offices, branches or by allying itself with local lenders.
"We are reviewing our presence outside Europe and there will certainly be some decisions," he said.
He confirmed the bank's 2-billion euro net profit target for this year and said he did not expect the upcoming results of a Europe-wide health check of lenders to pose any systemic threat for Italian banks.
"I expect that any shortfall (for Italian lenders) will be manageable at the country level, without the need to tap funds in Brussels."
He said he expected a wave of consolidation among Italian banks, which are beset by low profitability, but UniCredit was not interested in domestic acquisitions.
"We have finished three years of restructuring, we are doing well," he said, adding that pretax operating profit in Italy was growing in the "double digit (range), closer to 20 percent than to 10 percent." (Additional reporting by Paola Arosio and Gianluca Semeraro; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle, Bernard Orr)