Italy could accelerate MPS stake sale, says deputy PM

CERNOBBIO, Italy (Reuters) – Italy’s government may accelerate the planned sale of its stake in Monte dei Paschi di Siena (MPS) bank and make a proposal for the operation “in the short term”, the deputy prime minister said on Saturday.

Antonio Tajani told reporters the state must not become a banker and said it was up to Economy Minister Giancarlo Giorgetti to decide on how to dispose of the stake in the Tuscan lender.

“We’ll see what the proposal will be. For me, the sooner the better,” the minister said in comments on the sidelines of the European House – Ambrosetti economic forum in Cernobbio.

Earlier on Saturday, Tajani told Bloomberg News Television that a decision might be taken on the sale “in the short term”.

Commitments agreed with European Union authorities at the time of MPS’s 5.4 billion euro ($5.82 billion) bailout in 2017 bind Rome to eventually selling its 64% stake in the bank.

Giorgetti said on Monday that Italy was looking at the possibility of selling state assets as it prepares the 2024 budget.

A government source told Reuters this week that Italy’s Treasury remains open to reducing its stake in MPS through one or more share sales on the market, a move that would not hinder the search for strategic partners.

Banking regulators still see a merger with a peer as the best option for MPS but both UniCredit and smaller rival Banco BPM have repeatedly denied any interest.

Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said earlier this year that MPS’s privatisation should help consolidate the banking sector.

($1 = 0.9282 euros)

(Reporting by Elvira Pollina and Giancarlo Navach; Writing by Giselda Vagnoni; Editing by Helen Popper)