Monte dei Paschi in last-ditch effort to lure retail investors

MILAN (Reuters) - Troubled Italian bank Monte dei Paschi di Siena BMPS.MI sought on Friday to convince 40,000 retail investors to take part in its last-ditch rescue plan, warning them they could face bigger losses if they did not convert their bonds into shares.

A logo of Monte dei Paschi di Siena bank is seen on the ground in Siena, Italy, November 5, 2014. REUTERS/Giampiero Sposito/File Photo

Italy’s third biggest bank has until the end of this month to raise 5 billion euros ($5.2 billion) in equity or face the risk of being wound down, potentially triggering a wider banking and political crisis in Italy.

Should the privately-funded plan fail, the government is ready to step in with state money to keep the Siena-based bank in business, though such a move would require both retail and institutional investors to share in losses.

Monte dei Paschi said on Friday market watchdog Consob had given the go-ahead to the extension of a voluntary debt-to-equity offer to retail investors owning 2.1 billion euros of its junior debt. The offer runs from December 16 to 21.

The bank, noting there could be no certainty Rome would pump in public money, warned that any state aid could force bondholders to convert their securities on worse conditions than those of the lender’s voluntary debt swap offer.

Underscoring its vulnerability, the bank said on Friday deposits had fallen by 6 billion euros between September 30 and December 13.

Outflows have totaled 2 billion euros since a December 4 referendum on constitutional reform which triggered the resignation of Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, throwing the bank’s rescue plan into disarray.

Related Coverage

With the clock ticking, the chances of the bank pulling off the fundraising look slim, and bankers and analysts say state intervention looks increasingly on the cards to help restore confidence.

Sources close to the matter said on Thursday Italy was ready to inject 15 billion euros into the Tuscan lender and other weak banks. An emergency decree could be approved next week as soon as the results of Monte dei Paschi’s debt swap and share sale are known.

In its prospectus for the reopened debt swap offer, the bank said the European Central Bank had told it that under a negative stress-test scenario, the lender has “a 29-day time horizon in which it can meet its liquidity needs without resorting to new intervention.” The stress-test scenario assumes a liquidity outflow of 10.3 billion euros within a month.

Shares in the bank fell 3 percent by 1513 GMT.

Besides the bond conversion, the bank’s last attempt to avert state aid also envisages selling shares to cornerstone investors and on the market.

However, a source close to the matter said on Thursday that Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund - which bankers had said could invest 1 billion euros - had yet to make up its mind about whether to put money in the bank.

“Qatar is still at the window,” the source said.

Following the political turmoil triggered by Renzi’s resignation, JPMorgan and other investment banks that had made a preliminary commitment to underwrite the share sale walked out of the deal, citing adverse market conditions.

Monte dei Paschi estimates the cost of its rescue deal, including fees paid to investment banks, at 558 million euros, it said in the prospectus published on Friday.

The ECB last week rejected Monte dei Paschi’s request for more time to raise the funds, saying a delay could trigger a further deterioration in the bank’s liquidity and capital position, putting its survival at risk.

Editing by Adrian Croft