Ever since two months ago, when Italy's third largest bank - and the world's oldest - Sienna's Monte dei Paschi, failed Europe's latest stress test, it had scrambled, and assured markets, that it would obtain a private sector cash injection, aka bailout, amounting to roughly €5 billion in fresh capital, there was significant speculation in the Italian press that the capital raise was not going well as third party investors were uncomfortable to allocate funds to a bank whose history of failure and unprecedented bad NPL book remained a daunting obstacle. The reason why Monte Paschi was forced to seek a private sector bailout is that Germany had repeatedly shut down Italian PM Matteo Renzi's attempts to pursue a public sector bailout. Instead, the Germans demanded that instead of a public sector bailout the bank should implement a bail-in, and impair various liabilities, which however could result in another bout of public anger, due to the substantial retail investment in the bank's unsecured bonds, perhaps culminating with a run on the bank.
In any case, there was little news about BMPS' ongoing bailout plan, and now we know why: according to Reuters, European regulators expect Italian bank Monte dei Paschi di Siena will have to turn to the government for support, although Rome - as expected - would strongly resist such a move if bondholders suffered losses. Making matters worse, in the first half of 2016 much of the public's attention had focused on the infamously unstable Italian banks, of which Monte Paschi was the weakest link, and as such the reemergence of solvency concerns involving the Italian lender could potentially reignite fears about the broader banking sector even as the Italian referendum due sometime in late October or November, gets closer.
Which brings us back to the latest Reuters update on the BMPS' bailout progress, or lack thereof: according to the news service, "while the bank is determined to see through the capital raising, if it were to disappoint, it would be left with a capital hole. Now euro zone authorities are considering whether state support would have to be tapped after what bankers have described as slack interest in the bank's share offer."
"There is clearly an execution risk to the capital raising," said one official with knowledge of the rescue attempt, adding that the bank's value, about one ninth the size of the planned 5 billion euro cash call, would be a turn-off for investors. That person said a "precautionary recapitalization by the Italian state" could be used to make up any shortfall once attempts to raise fresh cash from investors had concluded in the coming months.
Of course, that takes us back to square one, where the debate of bail-in over bail-out remerges, and puts the spotlight not only on Monte Paschi, but all of its allegedly more stable peers.
Reuters sayd that Monte dei Paschi declined to comment. The Italian treasury did not want to comment for this story. A spokesman for Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said he was not aware of any expectations among European regulators that Monte dei Paschi may turn to the state for help.
Some more background on this story from Reuters for those who are new to the story of Europe's longest running bank rescue:
Monte dei Paschi faces a considerable challenge in convincing investors to back its third recapitalisation in as many years. Further complicating the picture, a constitutional referendum, expected to be held by early December that could decide the future of Renzi, is likely to push the bank's fund-raising into next year, the officials say.
The bank's fragile state poses a threat to confidence in other Italian lenders and even to heavily-indebted Italy, the euro zone's third-largest economy.
Renzi and his economy minister, Pier Carlo Padoan, have said in recent days Monte dei Paschi's capital raising will be successful. Sources close to the consortium of banks that have made a
preliminary commitment to underwrite the 5 billion euro privately-backed cash call dismissed suggestions it may fall short as "nonsense."
Reopening the question of state support, which had already been explored and dropped because of the losses it requires for bondholders under European bank crisis rules, is politically charged, and would reignite a dispute between Italy and Germany.
Berlin had objected to Rome's efforts to back the struggling bank without imposing a loss on its bondholders, according to another senior official. But while some in the German government argue that Italian savers are wealthy enough to shoulder the bank's problems, Rome wants to spare both institutional investors and ordinary Italians who have tied up their money in its bonds at all costs.
Renzi's government fears that hitting bondholders would be extremely unpopular and could trigger a wider confidence crisis in the Italian banking system.
So what may have exacerbated the tension? A quick answer is... Renzi himself: recall that earlier this week Renzi took a public swipe at Germany, telling its central bank chief Jens Weidmann to fix the problems of its own banks which he said had "hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of billions of euros of derivatives". He was, of course, referring to Deutsche Bank.
This latest, and very public attempt to redirect attention from Italy's banking woes to those of Germany may have been sufficient for Merkel and more importantly, Schauble, to pull some strings in the background, resulting in today's Reuters report.
Further, recall that it was none other than Renzi's predecessor Sylvio Berlusconi who in 2011, when as punishment for his non-compliance with European "principles", was forcibly "removed" by the European establishment. Perhaps it's time for round two, and if it takes the sacrifice of one more bank, together with billions in depositors' funds and investments, so be it.