REAL ESTATE - GE Real Estate is to buy part of Italian bank Unicredit’s non-performing loans business as part of a joint venture with ABN AMRO.

In the recently concluded first tranche of the €1.8bn deal, the partners paid €269m to Unicredit Banca Mediocredito. No dates have been given for the subsequent acquisitions from corporate bank Unicredit Banca D’Impresa and retail banking division Unicredit Banca.

ABN AMRO and GE Real Estate each hold a 49.5% stake in the venture, with the outstanding 1% held by technology company Tecnocasa.

For ABN AMRO the deal is an opportunity to boost its business in one of Europe’s most complex operating environments. Last year it won an acquisition bid for Italian bank Antonveneta after a scandal featuring phone-tapped regulatory reluctance to allow the bank to go to a foreign buyer.

“We’re committed to Italy. It’s not as if we’ve gone in there, done this one deal and that’s it,” said ABN AMRO spokesman Piers Townsend.

A spokeswoman for GE said: “We’re always interested in deals, especially those involving some degree of financial engineering, and we’re likely to do more of them in Italy.”

Asked if GE would continue its focus on joint ventures, she added: “It depends on the nature of the deal. We examine each deal individually and find the best arrangement for each one.”

The Italian market for non-performing loans is burgeoning despite International Monetary Fund (IMF) criticism over lax domestic definitions. In November the IMF urged Italy to align its definition with international norms. Redefinition, it said, “would better reflect underlying realities and provide more meaningful information on banks’ financial health”.