Unipol expects premiums to remain flat this year in the face of difficult market conditions as the Italian insurer presses ahead with plans to merge with peer Fondiaria-SAI. Unipol said that because of the tough economic growth outlook in Italy and ongoing sovereign debt concerns across Europe it will be difficult for the insurance market to grow premiums in 2012. “The (Unipol) group is working on certain lines of action that should allow it to confirm, also for the current year, premiums on a like-for-like basis close to volumes seen in 2011,” the company said in a document relating to its plans to take over Fondiaria. At the end of January, Unipol agreed to a deal brokered by top investment house Mediobanca to save Italy’s No.1 motor insurer Fondiaria in a four-way merger. The transaction, which will involve three capital increases of more than 2 billion euros ($2.68 billion) total, will create a leading national insurance player with a 32 per cent share of non-life business and 37 per cent of the motor sector. The planned takeover of Fondiaria by Unipol faces a rival bid from private equity funds Palladio Finanziaria and Sator which have acquired 8 per cent of the insurer and are ready to pump 450 million euros into parent company Premafin. On Monday Premafin advisor Banca Leonardo met creditor banks to discuss restructuring of Premafin’s 320 million euro debt. “Unipol is pushing for conversion of around half the (Premafin) debt into a loan which converts into shares (in the future new insurance group),” a source close to the deal said late on Monday. Two other sources said Leonardo had proposed to the banks converting half the Premafin debt into a convertible bond with around half of the remainder being restructured and the rest reimbursed. Premafin’s main creditor banks are UniCredit, which owns 6.9 per cent of Fondiaria, and Mediobanca. On on Friday Unipol CEO Carlo Cimbri said the group will not change its plans for Fondiaria. Concern has been expressed about the ability of Unipol to turn round Fondiaria which has a solvency ratio of just 75 per cent and expects to post a loss of more than 1 billion euros for 2011. Unipol, which will launch a capital increase of up to 1.1 billion euros to help fund the takeover, said preliminary data for 2011 indicated its premiums for the year would be above the 6.5 billion euros seen in 2010 on a like-for-like basis.