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Unicredit delights market with plan despite losses

Italy's largest bank reports 14-billion-euros net drop in 2013

11 March, 18:33
Unicredit delights market with plan despite losses (By Sandra Cordon) (ANSA) - Rome, March 11 - Unicredit SpA bank on Tuesday reported an enormous net loss of 14 billion euros for 2013 while unveiling a five-year turnaround plan that won the endorsement of shareholders who, at one point, drove up the stock price by more than 7%.

The loss came as a shock to investors and represented a dramatic change from the profit of about 865 million euros in 2012, the bank board said as it proposed a stock dividend payment of 10 euros cents per share. Still, investors were pleased by a turnaround plan announced by Chief Executive Officer Federico Ghizzoni, who said the program included job cuts of 8,500, including 5,700 Italian positions, as the bank struggles to recover from a year of enormous non-performing loans.

The plan also pledges that profits will triple at Unicredit by 2018, to about 6.6 billion euros.

Net profits for 2014 are forecast by the bank to reach about two billion euros, in part due to Italy's fledgling economic recovery.

"For UniCredit, 2013 was a turning point," Ghizzoni said in a statement. "We are now poised to further increase our lending and support of the real economy in Italy and in Europe".

Shares rose by 7.2% by mid-afternoon before closing trading up by 6.2% at 6.42 euros.

During the fourth quarter, Unicredit - Italy's largest bank measured by assets - took a major write-down on the value of past purchases and bad loans, which led to losses of 15 billion euros in the fourth quarter of 2013 alone.

Bank management booked a loss of about 9.3 billion euros to cover the cost of loan losses October through December 2013.

Some of the losses were also attributed, at least in a small part, to efforts by Unicredit to clean up its balance sheets before an important banking sector review by regulators with the European Central Bank. The ECB has been working with national bank regulators on a major asset quality review of the loan and trading books of about 128 of the euro region's largest banks, Bloomberg has reported. Banks that fail to demonstrate sufficient asset quality and quantity will be required to raise capital in some way, or risk being wound down.

"With the actions announced today, we further strengthened our balance sheet," said Ghizzoni.

The union representing bank workers, Uilca, said that the plan to slash jobs would have a bad affect on the company and suggested that if the axe falls, it should first strike upper management.

Later in the day, Ghizzoni explained that job cuts would include 1,500 positions in Germany, about 900 in Austria, as well as the 5,700 in Italy.

Unicredit's revenues fell by 4.1% to 24 billion euros for 2013, the company said, and gross operating profit fell by 9.9% to 9.2 billion euros. Loan loss provisions rose 47% to 13.7 billion euros. The losses were partly offset by a 2.1-billion-euro operating profit and the bank said that a revaluation of its holdings in the Bank of Italy amounted to 1.4 billion euros before taxes. Unicredit also said that it intends in 2014 to make an initial public offering of a minority stake in Fineco, its successful on-line bank, "to give a further acceleration to its growth".

The bank will also weigh selling a credit-collection agency which it owns.

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