Stellantis set to repay state-backed Italian loan early, sources say

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Workers install a flag with the logo of Stellantis, the world's fourth-largest automaker which starts trading in Milan and Paris after Fiat Chrysler and Peugeot maker PSA finalised their merger, at the main entrance of FCA Mirafiori plant in Turin, Italy, January 18, 2021. REUTERS/Massimo Pinca

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  • Loan paid out in June 2020 by Intesa Sanpaolo
  • Three-year loan can be repaid from March
  • Facility offered during height of COVID crisis

MILAN, Jan 27 (Reuters) - Stellantis (STLA.MI) is preparing to repay early a 6.3 billion euro ($7 billion) loan backed by Italian government which its predecessor Fiat Chrysler secured at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, two sources close to the matter said on Thursday.

Repaying the loan potentially frees Stellantis from conditions Rome attached to it, including preserving jobs at its Italian operations, making timely payments to suppliers and financing domestic investments in particular for electric vehicles.

The repayment is imminent, one of the sources said.

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The loan, which carries a three-year maturity, was given in June 2020 to the Italian unit of Fiat Chrysler by Italy's top lender Intesa Sanpaolo (ISP.MI), with credit export agency SACE providing a guarantee on 80% of the value.

Chief Financial Officer Richard Palmer said in October the state-backed loan was repayable starting from March 2022, but he said at the time that no decision had been taken on the repayment.

The loan stirred controversy in Italy because Fiat Chrysler, which had moved its legal headquarters to the Netherlands, was at the time working to merge with French rival PSA in a deal which included paying a large cash dividend to its shareholders.

But Rome still agreed to back the loan to support one of Italy's largest employers, at a time when the pandemic and lockdown measures almost completely froze the automotive market.

The automotive industry in Italy employs 278,000 direct and indirect workers and accounts for 6.2% of gross domestic product, according to data provided by automotive lobby ANFIA.

The merger between FCA and PSA, which formed Stellantis, was completed one year ago.

Last year the group signed a 12 billion euro revolving credit facility with a group of 29 banks, in two tranches with three- and five-year maturities.

($1 = 0.8967 euros)

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Reporting by Giulio Piovaccari and Valentina Za; Editing by Bernard Orr and Edmund Blair

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