ANOTHER blow to national pride: on January 13th DBRS, a Canadian rating agency, downgraded Italy’s sovereign debt, stripping the country of its last A rating. Government bond-yields rose; so will the cost of funding for Italian banks. Erik Nielsen, chief economist of UniCredit, Italy’s biggest lender, calls the extra €5bn ($5.3bn) or so banks will have to put up as collateral for their loans from the European Central Bank (ECB) “immaterial”. Still, it is a burden they could do without.

Weighing heaviest on bankers’ minds is a planned state rescue of Monte dei Paschi di Siena, now Italy’s fourth-largest lender. A private recapitalisation scheme collapsed in December, prompting it to seek government help. Days earlier, anticipating the plan’s demise, the state had created a €20bn fund to support ailing banks. 

Next month Monte dei Paschi’s chief executive, Marco Morelli, will present a new business plan. On January 18th he confirmed to a Senate committee that 500 branches and 2,450 jobs will go within three years. Soon the bank is expected to issue a state-backed bond, for perhaps €1.5bn, to shore up liquidity; it…Continue reading