Italy launches new 40-bln euro equity fund for virus-hit firms, sources say

* Around 100 companies already expressed interest in scheme

* Some firms have revenue far exceeding 500 million euros

* CDP may use fund’s resources to help key listed companies

ROME, May 26 (Reuters) - Italy’s state lender Cassa Depositi e Prestiti (CDP) has launched a new 40 billion euro ($49 billion) equity fund tasked with helping businesses weakened by the COVID-19 pandemic, two sources close to the matter said.

The so-called “Patrimonio Rilancio” is a special purpose vehicle (SPV) to be financed by the Treasury via specifically issued sovereign bonds, and managed by the CDP.

The sources said around 100 companies have already expressed a potential interest in tapping the fund, which was formally instituted at a CDP shareholders’ meeting on Wednesday.

Under the European Union’s more flexible approach to state aid in the face of the pandemic-induced recession, the fund will invest in non-financial Italian companies with revenue above 50 million euros, over the next 12 years.

The government-sponsored fund allows the CDP to help companies in severe financial difficulty through capital injections, bonds convertible into shares or risky subordinated debt, which ranks below senior debt when it comes to repayment.

Company interest so far has focused mainly on convertible bonds and subordinated debt, one of the sources said. Most of them are companies with revenue of up to 500 million euros, but there are some that far exceed that amount, the source added.

The companies, largely unlisted, operate in industries spanning hotels, textiles, agri-food, construction and infrastructure, fashion, furniture and auto parts.

CDP may also use the fund to support healthier companies alongside private investors on ordinary market terms, and to buy stakes in listed companies deemed of strategic importance.

The Treasury plans to issue by the end of 2022 up to 44 billion euros of sovereign bonds for Patrimonio Rilancio. However, Rome will use part of the overall 24.5 billion pencilled in this year for a different purpose - buying export agency SACE from CDP, in a deal worth 4.25 billion euros.

Economy Minister Daniele Franco has already approved a decree enabling the issuance of a first trance worth 3 billion euros in bonds, which CDP can use to raise liquidity on the market.

$1 = 0.8175 euros Reporting by Giuseppe Fonte; Editing by Gavin Jones and Alex Richardson