November 25, 2008 / 2:24 PM / 10 years ago

Monte Paschi decision on branches sale by end-Feb

MILAN, Nov 25 (Reuters) - Italy’s Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena (BMPS.MI) is evaluating offers for the 150 branches it is required to sell and will make a decision by end-February, General Manager Antonio Vigni said on Tuesday.

Monte dei Paschi, the world’s oldest bank, is selling the branches for antitrust reasons. Despite the bank’s repeated assurances that a sale was near, the process has lengthened as the financial crisis has deepened.

The sale is taking place as Monte Paschi has vowed to raise its capital ratios as security against market turmoil. A read-over of branch sales by other banks in Italy suggests a total price tag of 1.8 billion euros ($2.32 billion).

“We have offers and we are evaluating them. Therefore we are taking the necessary time to do so, which should cover the first two months of the new year,” Vigni said at the opening of a consultancy service.

He also said Monte dei Paschi would only make a decision about a dividend in the normal timeframe after closing 2008 books — from February to April next year. Its dividend yield of 16.13 percent is more than twice the average among Italian banks, Reuters data showed.

Italy’s two biggest banks, UniCredit SpA (CRDI.MI) and Intesa Sanpaolo (ISP.MI), have said they will not pay cash dividends as they seek to shore up defences against turmoil.

Vigni said the bank’s target is for a Tier 1 ratio, measure of capital adequacy, of 6 percent by the end of 2008. The goal for Core Tier 1, a standard of capital held against risky assets, is 5.5 percent.

Monte dei Paschi is selling the branches to meet regulatory requirements for its purchase of Banca Antonveneta from Spain’s Banco Santander SA (SAN.MC).

Monte dei Paschi competes with UBI Banca (UBI.MI) for the ranking of Italy’s number-three bank by market value.

Monte dei Paschi shares were up 1.08 percent at 1.316 euros at 1335 GMT. The DJ Stoxx banks gauge .SX7P was 4 percent firmer. (Reporting by Andrea Mandala, writing by Ian Simpson; Editing by Andrew Macdonald)

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