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UniCredit Seeks Better ECB Funding Access to Italian Banks

Rachel Sanderson, Financial Times

The European Central Bank has been urged to increase access to its funding to Italian banks by the head of UniCredit as the euro zone crisis puts further strains on money markets.

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Federico Ghizzoni, chief executive of UniCredit, made the request on behalf of Italian banks in his capacity as the country’s most senior banker at a meeting in of bank chiefs in Frankfurt on Wednesday, according to people familiar with the discussions.

The banker had earlier told Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera he wanted to ask Mario Draghi, ECB president, “to extend the access to ECB liquidity by widening the type of collateral offered”.

Mr Ghizzoni’s request comes as European bank chief executives push for longer-term funding beyond the 13-month limit in place at the ECB. The ECB declined to comment.

Funding for Italians banks has come into the spotlight as spreads on sovereign debt for the euro zone's third-largest economy hover around 7 percent, and investors shy away from Italy.

UniCredit, Italy’s largest bank by assets, launched a 7.5 billion euros all-cash rights issue this week as it revealed a 10 billion euro loss in the third quarter on significant goodwill writedowns.

The bank has 40 billion euros worth of exposure to Italian sovereign debt but it also has extensive operations in triple A rated Germany and Austria, which has helped it to cover its funding for 2011 and into the first month for next year, it said this week.

Nonetheless, its five-year credit default swaps, a key measure of risk, widened by 40 basis points to 575bp as investors remained concerned that its liquidity may be under pressure.

Mid-sized Italian banks wholly dependent on Italy for revenues are coming under even greater strain, analysts say.

According to the latest Bank of Italy data for October, ECB funding to Italian banks rose to 111.3 billion, three times the level of borrowing in June.

Intesa Sanpaolo, Italy’s largest retail bank, said last week it had drawn down 18.5 billion euros from the ECB by early November. Monte dei Paschi di Siena, Italy’s third-largest bank, said its drawdown amount stood at 15 billion euros to 18 billion euros. UniCredit, the only Italian bank named among the group of 29 globally systemically important financial institutions, has drawn down about 20 billion euros.