EU set to rule out state aid for Veneto banks - report

MILAN, June 18 (Reuters) - The European Commission will tell Italy in coming days it cannot use direct state support to rescue two struggling banks in the northern Veneto area, paving the way for their assets to be split into “good” and “bad” banks, La Stampa said on Sunday.

Citing sources at the Italian Treasury and EU institutions, La Stampa daily said Rome’s plan of using a precautionary recapitalisation to save the two lenders by using more than 5 billion euros ($5.6 billion) of public funds was no longer viable.

Instead the branches and assets of the two banks would be hived off into a good bank while the non-performing loans would be placed in a bad bank, it said.

A spokesman for the Commission said he could not confirm the report. “The Commission and the Italian authorities are working closely together to ensure a viable solution”.

Rome has been trying for months to reach an agreement over a bailout of Veneto Banca and rival Banca Popolare di Vicenza to avoid their liquidation.

Talks with the European Commission have dragged on because Brussels wants private investors to pump 1.25 billion euros into the banks before any taxpayer money can be used to avert them being wound down.

But La Stampa said Rome had failed to find lenders willing to provide the private capital requested by the Commission.

It said talks with Italy’s main banks in recent days had spoken of a resolution of the two Veneto lenders and their sale at a symbolic price.

Earlier this month European authorities stepped in to avert a collapse of Spain’s Banco Popular following a run on the bank, orchestrating a last-minute rescue by Santander.

La Stampa said it was still not clear who might buy the performing assets of the two Veneto lenders but said talks were most advanced with Italy’s Intesa Sanpaolo.

However it cautioned that Italy’s biggest retail bank was concerned about stretching its balance sheet and jeopordising dividends, adding that any acquisition might prompt the European Central Bank to ask for a capital increase.

The Italian Treasury and Intesa Sanpaolo were not immediately available for comment.

Italian Economy Minister Pier Carlo Padoan said on Friday he was confident a solution for the two banks could soon be reached. ($1 = 0.8933 euros) (Reporting by Stephen Jewkes, additional reporting by Francesco Guarascio in Brussels, Paola Arosio in Milan and Giuseppe Fonte in Rome, editing by Louise Heavens)