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Italy's banks won't fail the European stress tests, the country's economy and finance minister told CNBC on Tuesday, despite fears that the country's banks are struggling under bad loans and hefty holdings of Italian government debt.
"To consider that this has been some sort of implicit bailout by the Italian banks is an exaggeration," Fabrizio Saccomanni told CNBC on Tuesday. "The latest indication is that Italian banks are actually reducing their share of government bonds which was never bigger than 7 or 8 percent of their total assets."
Last month the European Central Bank unveiled plans for its oversight of Europe's leading banks, including an assessment of their risky assets, the quality of their balance sheets, and the amount of capital they hold.
His comments follow a report on Monday from Reuters in which it said Italian banks were near saturation point in terms of Italian government debt. In August, Italian banks held 397 billion euros ($538 billion) in Italian government bonds, the report showed, near a record 402 billion in June and nearly double what they had at the end of 2011.
Italian banks bought up Italian debt using long-term refinancing operations (LTROs) – cheap three year loans offered by the European Central Bank – to make the most of the higher yields on Italian government bonds.
Investors are looking ahead this week to the meeting of the European Central Bank (ECB) at which it is expected to announce a further rate cut or some kind of further liquidity provision in order to stimulate euro zone growth and consumer confidence in the face of deflationary concerns.
Though the ECB has not specified what measure it will use, there is speculation that either a further rate cut or introduce a third round of LTROs – cheap loans from the central bank to national banks – could be on the cards.
This matters for Italy because the ECB's decision will determine whether Italy's banks can keep up their support of the Treasury and the ECB loans can be repaid in 2015. In addition to this concern, the ECB is holding an asset quality review of European banks to ensure they met stricter capital limits and could withstand adverse economic conditions.
Saccomanni said the stress tests posed no danger for Italy's banks, despite the high level of non-performing loans (NPLs) on their books.
The total amount of bad loans held by Italian banks continued to rise in August, data published in October by the country's banking association ABI showed, reaching peaks not seen since 1999. Gross bad loans grew by 22.4 percent to 141.8 billion euros ($191.3 billion) compared with the same period last year, ABI said.
(Read more: Bad loans at European banks hit $1.7 trillion)
"Bank of Italy estimates, corroborated by the International Monetary Fund, show that even in the worse case you could imagine, Italian banks would completely wipe out their profits for this year without making any dent in their capital structure."
"I don't expect there will be any major surprises," he said.
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