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Opinion

Unicredit: A victim of its own success

UniCredit is one of the world’s biggest financial groups but concerns over its capital base have made it vulnerable to panic-stricken investors.

In normal times, if a bank had a core tier 1 capital ratio of 5.7% and total regulatory capital of more than 10% it would draw comment from analysts but it would hardly set the alarm bells ringing. Especially as that bank had made a net profit of €2.9 billion for the first half of the year. These, though, are far from normal times, as UniCredit is finding out to its cost.

Over a three-day period during the last week of September, and following government rescues of several banks across Europe, the Italian firm’s share price fell 24%, at one point trading at its lowest level since December 1997. Concerns mounted that UniCredit would fail to meet its 2008 targets, in particular its core tier 1 ratio goal of 6.2%, and would need a capital injection. The tide turned only after the Italian regulator banned short selling of financial and insurance stocks on October 1.

Such was the severity of the crisis engulfing UniCredit that its chief executive, Alessandro Profumo, went on national television later in the day to deny that he was resigning because of the plunging share price and to emphasize the bank’s financial strength.

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