May 7, 2019 / 3:01 PM / 19 days ago

UPDATE 1-Generali targeting European small and medium insurers

(Adds CEO comments on acquisitions)

TRIESTE, Italy, May 7 (Reuters) - Italy's biggest insurer Generali is looking at small and medium-sized insurance companies in Europe to strengthen its presence in the region, it said on Tuesday.

Generali said in November it had up to 4 billion euros ($4.5 billion) for acquisitions and growth with a focus on asset management and other higher margin businesses but Chief Executive Philippe Donnet said he did not see big mergers in Europe in the insurance sector.

"We have capital and cash for acquisitions ... we will look at opportunities in a very selective way to increase earnings per share and create value for shareholders", Donnet, who has been CEO since 2016, said at a shareholder meeting.

Generali in the past was rumoured to be a potential target for larger rivals such as French insurer Axa or Swiss Zurich Insurance.

The insurer, whose biggest shareholder is Italian financial group Mediobanca, is 28.5 percent owned by Italian investors.

Donnet, reappointed CEO on Tuesday for another three years, said small and medium insurance companies in central and eastern Europe could be targets since they were struggling with complex regulation and a need to diversify their businesses.

"Earnings from the asset management business must grow, also through acquisitions", he added.

In the past three years Generali has raised 1.5 billion euros from disposals, exiting a dozen non-strategic countries. It has also raised 1.9 billion euros from the sale of its German life insurance unit Generali Leben.

"We completed our disposals plan. Nothing else is on the table. If opportunities creating value for our shareholders arise, we will consider them", Donnet said. (Reporting by Gianluca Semeraro, editing by Maria Pia Quaglia and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

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