By Francesca Landini and Stephen Jewkes
MILAN (Reuters) - France's Amundi has submitted the highest offer to buy Italian UniCredit's asset manager, Pioneer, while a consortium led by Poste Italiane and Ameriprise Financial are scrambling to stay in the race, three sources close to the matter said on Friday.
Two of the sources also said that Australia's Macquarie <MQG.AX> was practically out of the race because its offer was the least attractive.
According to the chief executive of Aberdeen Asset Management, which dropped its bid earlier this month, the bank has priced the unit at 3.5 billion euros ($3.7 billion) which Aberdeen considered too high. But one of the sources said the price was not the only factor UniCredit was taking into account.
Italy's biggest bank is looking to sell Pioneer and other businesses to boost its stretched capital base. The lender is also expected to launch a rights issue, and the size of the cash call will depend on how much money it nets from the disposals.
The sources said a final decision is still uncertain and confirmed that UniCredit intended to wait until after a constitutional referendum on Dec. 4 to pick the buyer.
U.S.-based Ameriprise Financial <AMP.N>, Amundi <AMUN.PA>, Poste Italiane <PST.MI> and UniCredit <CRDI.MI> declined to comment. Macquarie was not immediately available for comments.
Pioneer is Europe's sixth-largest asset gatherer and has assets under management of around 225 billion euros.
As investors around the world search for higher returns, asset gatherers have grown rapidly in recent years, making them an appealing target for banks and financial institutions.
The financial wealth of Italian families, excluding property, totals 3.9 trillion euros ($4.1 trillion).
According to 2014 data, only 32 percent of those funds were invested in asset management and insurance products, well below an average in leading European countries - making Italy a country with high growth potential for asset managers.
(Additional reporting by Maria Pia Quaglia and Gianluca Semeraro; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)