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Italian banks to discuss Carige rescue on Thursday -sources

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By Stefano Bernabei

ROME (Reuters) – Italian banks will discuss on Thursday whether to back the latest rescue plan for Banca Carige by taking a stake alongside a fund owned by U.S. asset manager BlackRock, two sources close to the talks said.

Carige was placed under special administration at the start of the year after the Malacalza family, its top investor, blocked a planned capital raising, derailing an industry-financed rescue plan.

Italian banks came to Carige’s rescue in November by buying a 320 million euro (£277.6 million) hybrid bond needed to boost the bank’s total capital ratio.

The sources said banks would discuss whether to convert that bond into equity to help fill Carige’s 630 million euro capital shortfall, reducing the potential investment needed from the BlackRock fund.

BlackRock declined to comment.

The ECB has asked the three commissioners it put in charge of the Genoa-based bank to find a buyer for Carige and extended a deadline to present binding bids to mid-May.

The BlackRock fund is the only investor known to be considering a bid for Carige after Minnesota-based Varde Partners decided against a possible offer.

The Malacalzas, who own 27.6 percent of Carige, could also decide to buy into the cash call so as to preserve at least part of their stake, sources have said, adding there have been contacts between the family of steel entrepreneurs and the BlackRock fund.

The government has earmarked up to 1 billion euros to buy Carige shares and stands ready to step in should a private solution fail to come off.

Italian banks bought Carige’s bond through a voluntary-contribution scheme they set up under a depositor guarantee fund.

A meeting of the voluntary-contribution scheme is scheduled to take place on Thursday in Milan, following a meeting of Italy’s banking lobby ABI steering committee.

When presenting full-year results, several Italian banks said they had written down in full the investment in Carige.

But most of them are unwilling to become shareholders in Carige via the bond conversion, which is also subject to a very complex voting procedure.

(Reporting by Stefano Bernabei; writing by Valentina Za; editing by Alexander Smith)

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