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European regulators to exempt some banks from harshest stress tests

By Stefano Bernabei

ROME, Feb 10 (Reuters) - Regulators will exempt banks that had mandatory European Commission-approved restructuring plans in place last year - such as Monte dei Paschi di Siena - from the harshest of stress tests in 2014, Italian government officials say.

The European Banking Authority (EBA) is due to conduct stress tests of euro zone lenders as part of a sector-wide check up by the European Central Bank before taking it takes on supervision from national regulators in November.

In a Jan. 31 statement that outlines the stress tests, the EBA said tests for exempted banks would be run on 2014-16 balance sheet projections rather than on a snapshot at Dec. 31, Italian economy ministry and Bank of Italy officials told Reuters. The EBA has declined to give more exact details.

"For banks that have been granted EU-approved state aid, like Monte Paschi, stress tests will be run ... on the profit and loss statement and the balance sheet as set out in the restructuring plan," an Italian Economy Ministry official said.

"It is clear that this approach looks at the bank's prospective situation, factoring in the restructuring plan, with an outcome which is by definition better than the original one," the official said.

A Bank of Italy official told Reuters that using static balance-sheet data would make little sense for banks like Monte Paschi that are set to significantly modify their financial profile over the timeframe covered by the stress tests.

Under its restructuring plan, Monte Paschi, which got 4.1 billion euros ($5.6 billion) in EU aid last year, is set to cut risk-weighted assets to about 81 billion euros in 2017 from about 93 billion in 2013.

The officials said the exemptions included banks from countries across the European Union.