MILAN (Reuters) - Italian banks' high levels of bad debts can be managed, European Central Bank supervisor Ignazio Angeloni told a domestic newspaper, adding that the problem was not specific to Italy.
Shares in Italian banks have slumped this year on concerns about a 360 billion euro ($400 billion) pile of soured loans, which the ECB is anxious to see brought down. The Italian government is in talks with the EU to provide aid to the troubled lenders, hoping to shield savers.
"There isn’t a specific or country-wide problem with Italy," Angeloni told Il Sole 24 Ore in an interview published on Friday.
"Some banks are burdened by a high level of non-performing loans. The NPL problem can be managed, but shouldn't be underestimated."
The ECB, as the euro zone's top banking supervisor, has made tackling bad debt one of its objectives for the year and markets feared it might force a fire sale on banks.
Sources told Reuters last month the ECB planned to give euro zone banks non-binding guidance by the end of 2016 or early 2017 to cut bad debt, raising pressure on lenders but not forcing their hand.
"We know well that re-absorbing NPLs, especially when the level is high, cannot be done rapidly, and we know that there is a trade-off between speed and value that can be extracted," Angeloni said.
"Our goal is to help the banks use all margins of maneuver they have to solve the problem, as quickly as possible."
He added that the Atlante bailout fund, set up recently to help stabilize Italy's banking system, was not sufficient to address all cases where money would be required to buy up bad loans or to strengthen banks' capital.
He said Atlante needed to build its resources, especially from private investors outside Italian banking.
"I also believe that the presence of international investors would be a good sign," he added.
Angeloni reaffirmed his view that European rules offer room to provide state aid to banks without forcing losses on private investors if this serves the purpose of preserving financial stability.
The ECB is also due to tell banks how much capital they need to hold against possible losses shortly.
Angeloni said mandatory capital requirements, which determine how much money a bank can pay out in dividends, bonuses and discretionary coupons, will fall from last year's level because part of the ECB's demands will now be expressed as non-binding "guidance".
"Failure to meet the guidance will not automatically result in supervisory actions," he said.
(Reporting by Agnieszka Flak; Writing by Francesco Canepa; Editing by Mark Bendeich)