By Francesco Guarascio
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Italy is in talks with the European Commission to devise a plan to recapitalize Italian lenders with public money limiting losses for bank investors, an EU executive spokeswoman said on Sunday.
The move would aim to help Italian lenders at risk of failing the last round of European stress tests, for which results are due on July 29, as they face a collapse in share prices and remain saddled by a mountain of bad loans that make up roughly one-third of the euro zone's total.
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"We are in contact with the Italian authorities," a Commission spokeswoman said when asked whether Rome and the EU executive were holding talks on a possible public recapitalization of Italian banks.
"Based on precedents, there is a number of solutions that can be put in place in full compliance with the EU rules addressing liquidity and capital shortages in banks without adverse effects on retail investors," she added.
Last week, the Commission authorized an Italian government plan to guarantee liquidity for banks in the event of a financial crisis.
To address capital shortages that may be revealed in the end-of-July stress test results, the Italian government is considering an injection of public money for the weakest lenders.
One of the recipients of public money would be troubled lender Monte dei Paschi di Siena <BMPS.MI>, Italian daily Corriere della Sera wrote in an unsourced report on Sunday.
The possible measure needs to be approved by the European Commission, which is in charge of overseeing the application of antitrust legislation.
EU rules on bank rescues dictate losses for bank investors, the so-called bail-in, before taxpayers' money can be used to help a failing lender.
The rules, which have been in force since January, allow a state to directly acquire a stake in a bank that fails a stress test and cannot raise capital in the markets because of "a serious disturbance" in the domestic economy.
But the state support is unlikely to come without strings. The scheme has been already applied to rescue the main Greek banks last year.
In exchange for allowing the Greek state to acquire a stake in the private banks, the Commission required restructuring plans that forced the lenders to sell assets and cut jobs.
Holders of the banks' bonds were forced to swap them with shares, resulting in a loss, although the operation avoided the full wiping out of their investment that may have occurred in the event of a winding down of the banks.
(Additional reporting by Francesca Landini in Milan)