November 19, 2015 / 4:45 PM / 5 years ago

Exclusive - Italy in talks with funds over plan to sell banks' bad loans

MILAN/ROME (Reuters) - Italy’s treasury is trying to broker a deal under which specialist funds would take over bad loans from the country’s banks, after the EU Commission rejected a plan involving state guarantees, two sources with knowledge of the talks said.

The plans remain fluid, but if the talks are successful an asset management company would be set up next year for the loans, in which private investors would take stakes and shoulder most of the risk, one of the sources told Reuters.

Italian banks are currently clogged up with 200 billion euros (140 billion pounds) in bad debt, where borrowers are in default. This sum amounts to 18 percent of total corporate loans, stifling the banks’ ability to lend.

Bad loans are expected to peak in 2017-2018 in Italy and experts warn that the price at which distressed asset funds are willing to buy them is mostly below their value on the banks’ books. That means lenders will have to record additional losses should they opt to sell them to the asset management company.

The treasury and Bank of Italy are trying to persuade the funds and banks alike that they will win under the new plan.

One of the sources said some large specialist funds were looking for a good opportunity to invest in Italy. “This could also be a chance for the banks to clean up their balance sheets once and for all,” the source said.

State involvement in the new project will be less than in the government’s previous plan for a bad bank, while the conditions for the lenders to shed their loans will be less favourable than previously thought.

One of the main features of the old plan, discussed with the European Commission for close on eight months, was a state guarantee scheme to help the bad bank raise money at competitive rates.

Some kind of announcement on the feasibility of the new project could come by the end of this year, one of the sources said, adding that the treasury was aware uncertainty was unnerving sellers and prospective buyers.

Additional reporting by Paola Arosio, Valentina Za in Milan, Stefano Bernabei in Rome; editing by David Stamp

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