UPDATE 1-Italian bank MPS' top investor sells down stake

Sat Mar 24, 2012 11:49am EDT

* Foundation has sold 8.2 pct stake

* Sold 4 pct to Aleotti family, rest through block sales

* Sale of up to 4 pct to Optimum fund to come next week-source

* Goal of selling 12-13 pct of MPS within sight

By Lisa Jucca

MILAN, March 24 (Reuters) - The top investor in Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena said on Saturday it had sold an 8.2 percent stake in Italy's No.3 bank, raising around 339 million euros ($449.61 million) and boosting chances of keeping creditors at bay.

The foundation, a charitable institution which until recently held 49 percent in Monte dei Paschi, is selling down its stake in the Tuscan bank to repay debts worth around 1 billion euros by an agreed April 30 deadline.

The creditors are 12 domestic and foreign banks, including JP Morgan and Credit Suisse.

The decision to loosen its grip on the Siena-based bank marks a turning point for the foundation, which had resisted cutting its holdings and allowing new investors in.

After much media speculation about potential suitors for a stake in the world's oldest bank, Fondazione Monte dei Paschi di Siena said in a statement it had agreed to sell 4 percent of the lender to Tuscan-based entrepreneurs Aleotti.

The rest of the 8.2 percent stake was sold through off-market block sales, it said, adding the average price for the overall stake was 0.376 euros per share.

This was above Monte dei Paschi's closing price of 0.3533 euros on Friday, when the stock was hit by concerns about a lack of buyers.

In a statement, the foundation ruled out decisively any plan to sell further shares in the bank on the market through an accelerated book building procedure.

With an offer by Luxemburg-based investment fund Optimum Asset Management expected to be finalised next week, the foundation is within sight of its objective to sell up to 12-13 percent in the bank to repay the bulk of its debt.

"The Optimum deal should be finalised next week," a financial source told Reuters on Saturday, adding Optimum would probably buy no more than 4 percent.

On top of the proceeds from the stake sales, the foundation has earmarked asset sales worth 200 million euros, allowing it to repay at least two thirds of the debt if everything falls into place.

The investor, which has the Italian Treasury's green light to sell up to 15.5 percent, does not want to reduce its stake below 33.5 percent, a level under Italian law which gives it the right to block extraordinary transactions such as hostile takeovers. ($1 = 0.7540 euros)

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