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By Giuseppe Fonte
ROME, Nov 21 (Reuters) - Italy is likely to introduce a 5 percent ownership cap on stakes in its central bank, a government source said on Thursday, forcing shareholder banks to sell part of their holdings in a move expected to yield a capital gain.
The Bank of Italy is in the process of massively revaluing its share capital, boosting the value of stakes held by domestic lenders.
The revalued stakes would generate capital gains for banks and tax revenues for the government at a time when lenders face scrutiny by the European Central Bank in an upcoming sector check-up and Rome is striving to cut its budget gap.
“The threshold should be 5 percent, it is a well-founded assumption,” a government source said, confirming a press report.
The central bank’s share capital is stuck at a value of 156,000 euros set in 1936. A panel of independent experts has said it could be worth between 5 billion and 7.5 billion euros.
Italy’s top two lenders Intesa Sanpaolo and UniCredit own respectively 42 percent and 22 percent.
At present, the Bank of Italy does not allow banks to count the stakes towards their regulatory capital, but this stance is expected to change once the revaluation is complete and the stakes become assets for sale.
Prime Minister Enrico Letta said on Thursday the government had postponed approval of a decree allowing the Bank of Italy’s capital revaluation because the European Central Bank had yet to give its authorisation.
Letta said this should come in a matter of hours, but an ECB spokesman said the bank had only recently received the request from Italy and before giving an opinion it needed time to analyse it and for the governing council to approve it.
Letta said the government would meet again next Tuesday to approve the decree.
Italian daily Il Sole 24 Ore reported on Thursday that the government was also set to change the law to allow the Bank of Italy to buy the stakes that the banks would be forced to sell under the plans for a new ownership ceiling.
This would be a temporary arrangement because there is not yet a market for such assets, the paper reported.
The possibility of selling the stakes to the central bank means they can be included among assets for sale, yielding a tax gain for the government. (Additional reporting by Luca Trogni, writing by Valentina Za, editing by Gavin Jones and Gareth Jones)