Milan-based UniCredit is Italy's biggest bank
Milan (AFP) - Italy's biggest bank, UniCredit, announced plans Tuesday to slash 14,000 jobs and raise billions of euros in fresh capital as the country gets to grips with political instability and a banking crisis.
The bank, one of the worst performers in European bank stress tests, confirmed it would need to seek 13 billion euros ($13.8 bn) in fresh capital from investors despite political complications in Italy and the nation's third-largest bank scrambling to avoid a government-led rescue.
UniCredit also said it would shed around 14,000 jobs by the end of 2019 as part of a cost-saving drive.
The bank estimated this would save it 1.1 billion euros in staff costs. It said it planned to slash other costs by 600 million euros, resulting in an annual saving of 1.7 billion euros.
UniCredit's announcements came at a time when investor confidence in Italy could be on the mend after the formation of a new cabinet under Paolo Gentiloni, having been shaken by the collapse of former prime minister Matteo Renzi's government.
- 'Good trade-off' -
Analysts welcomed the package of measures, with Paola Sabbione at Deutsche Bank calling it "a good trade-off between profitability and capital strengthening".
Analysts at Jefferies said the upfront bill of 13 billion euros "is clearly large", but that the "aggressive balance sheet clean-up paves the way for a more substantial re-rating".
ING analysts warned that the clean-up will result in a writedown which would push results for the year's final three months deeply into the red. "Having said that, the improvement of the bank's risk profile and capital position would be credit-positive."
In response, UniCredit's shares surged by more than seven percent in early Milan trading, helping lift other Italian banking stocks.
Michael Hewson, chief market analyst at CMC Markets, meanwhile reminded investors that UniCredit shares are down 96 percent from their 2007 peaks and 55 percent down over the last 12 months despite three major capital increases since 2008.
"Having been bitten three times previously, and given that there still remains a great deal of uncertainty about how the wider problems in the banking sector in Italy will be dealt with, taking part in yet another one of these deals is not without risk," he said.
UniCredit's announcement was part of a major strategic review launched under new chairman Jean-Pierre Mustier that has so far involved selling off assets to strengthen the bank's capital base.
UniCredit was among the worst-performing banks in stress tests carried out in July by the European Banking Authority.
Since then, it has sold off several assets and stopped certain banking activities to focus on its core strengths.
Mustier said the strategic review was a "pragmatic plan based on conservative assumptions, with tangible and achievable targets."
The bank is targeting a net profit of 4.7 billion euros in 2019.
- 'Best in class' -
In another announcement closely watched by investors, UniCredit said it aimed to boost its tier-one CET capital ratio -- an important gauge of a bank's ability to resist a financial crisis -- by 2019.
It said it was targeting a capital ratio of above 12.5 percent, which it said was "in line with other best in class" banks.
This ratio stood at 10.82 percent at the end of September.
To achieve this, the bank, which is considered to be the only systemically-important bank in Italy -- or "too big to fail" -- said it would sell 17.7 billion euros worth of risky loans.
Non-performing loans have been a focus of worry in the Italian banking sector which is buckling under a total of 360 billion euros of risky loans, around a third of the eurozone total.
UniCredit has operations in 22 European countries and operates in 50 markets across the world.
At the end of September it employed 123,000 staff in 6,600 branches, 3,600 of which are in Italy.