FOR months, a bail-out had seemed likely; for weeks, unavoidable. On December 23rd it became fact. Monte dei Paschi di Siena, Italy’s third-largest bank and Europe’s most troubled, announced it had requested state help. The European Central Bank (ECB), Monte dei Paschi’s supervisor, had given it until the end of the year to find €5bn ($5.2bn) in equity, but the bank’s attempts to raise the money from the private sector failed. Paolo Gentiloni, Italy’s new prime minister, said that “today represents a turning-point [for the bank] and a reassurance for its depositors and its future”.

That is the hope. The Tuscan lender’s problems have been rumbling for years. In 2007 it ill-advisedly bought Antonveneta, another Italian bank, from Spain’s Santander for €9bn in cash; more tales of mismanagement have emerged since. Monte dei Paschi has already had two state bail-outs, and raised €8bn from share issues in 2014 and 2015. Its gross non-performing loans amount to one-third of its book. In this summer’s European stress tests, it ranked 51st of 51 institutions. In the past year its stockmarket value has fallen by 88%, to a piddling…Continue reading