UPDATE 1-Italy govt cautious on selling company share stakes

Fri Jul 19, 2013 12:41pm EDT

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(Adds Saccomanni statement, background, details)

ROME, July 19 (Reuters) - Italy aims to extract value from shareholdings in companies including oil group Eni, aerospace group Finmeccanica and energy group Enel but is cautious about a possible sale of the stakes, officials said on Friday.

Speaking after Finance Minister Fabrizio Saccomanni told Bloomberg Television that he would not rule out the sale or use of some state-owned shareholdings, ministry spokesman Roberto Basso said divestment was only one possible option.

He said using the stakes as collateral in financial operations was also among the options being considered, but he did not provide details.

In a statement issued after the interview, Saccomanni denied having spoken of any specific plans to sell shareholdings, saying he had been speaking in general terms about options for reducing the public debt.

Basso noted the government had already made clear it intended to use state assets including real estate holdings to cut the debt and said the programme could be extended to include shareholdings.

"A plan for extracting value from shareholdings that the state owns can't be ruled out but it's a scenario which should be considered with great caution because these are profitable listed companies which pay dividends," he said.

Separately, a source at the Treasury said there were no active plans at the moment to sell the stakes or to use them as collateral for issuing government bonds.

"There is no dossier open on this, there is nothing under way at the moment," said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Three sources at Italian banks which normally advise the treasury on debt management said they had not heard of any concrete plan under preparation.

The Italian state holds stakes of around 30 percent in each of Finmeccanica, Eni and Enel and there has long been pressure to sell off parts of these holdings to cut its chronically high public debt, now the second highest in the euro zone at more than 130 percent of gross domestic product.

On Thursday, a lawmaker from the centre-right People of Freedom party, a partner in Prime Minister Enrico Letta's ruling coalition, said the government planned a series of roadshows after the summer to detail the sale of selected state assets as part of a strategy to cut its public debt.

He gave no details about what assets could be involved but the other main party in the coalition, the centre-left Democratic Party, has frequently criticised proposals to sell stakeholdings in companies with major strategic importance.

The value of listed and unlisted companies owned by the treasury is around 130 billion euros, according to the Bruno Leoni think tank, which studies privatisations and the role of the state in private companies.

Carlo Stagnaro, head of research at the institute, said selling off the stakes would help cut the debt as well as improving competition in the market.

But he said using state-owned stakes in private companies as collateral for new borrowing would not solve the problem of reducing public debt. (Reporting by Giselda Vagnoni and Francesca Landini; Writing by James Mackenzie)

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