By Matt Scuffham
LONDON (Reuters) - Britain's Co-operative Group has agreed a plan to plug a 1.5 billion pound ($2.4 billion) capital hole at its bank which forces bondholders to pay part of the bill, avoiding a repeat of the taxpayer-funded bailouts staged during the financial crisis.
Using a "bail-in" model, bondholders must swap their debt for new bonds and equity in the bank to be listed on the London Stock Exchange, while the Co-op Group, Britain's biggest customer-owned business, will also provide financial support for its banking unit, the Co-op said on Monday.
The future of the bank, which has 4.7 million customers, has been in question since Moody's cut the lender's credit rating to junk status and warned it might need taxpayer support - something the bank denied. Its capital position had come under increased scrutiny since it pulled out of a deal to buy hundreds of bank branches from Lloyds Banking Group in April.
The Co-op Group, which also runs supermarkets, funeral services and pharmacies, said the plans will provide stability for the Co-operative Bank , generating 1 billion pounds of new capital this year and 500 million pounds in 2014.
"We have put in place a detailed and comprehensive solution to meet the current and longer-term capital requirements of the bank. In doing so we have agreed a plan to ensure its future," said Chief Executive Euan Sutherland.
The measures will involve an exchange offer to investors in the bank's subordinated capital securities, resulting in the transfer of ordinary shares which will be listed in October.
Co-op's debt holders are all 'junior', or 'subordinated', a type of bond that pays higher interest than 'senior' debt, but carries a higher risk. These kinds of bonds suffered heavy losses in rescued banks in Ireland and Spain.
The stock market listing could open the way for the bank to be spun off entirely, although Sutherland told reporters on a conference call that the group would remain the majority shareholder in the bank.
Co-op's plans also incorporate the previously announced sales of its life insurance business for 220 million pounds and a planned sale of its general business, which analysts say could bolster its capital by about 600 million pounds.
Co-op said the measures had been "discussed in full" with Britain's financial regulator.
The Prudential Regulation Authority has said banks must raise 25 billion pounds of extra capital by the end of the year to absorb any future losses on loans. It has so far agreed remedies with Royal Bank of Scotland , Lloyds and the Co-op.
Taxpayer-funded rescues during the crisis of 2008-09, particularly of the much bigger RBS and Lloyds, were highly unpopular with Britons and the authorities have been trying to avoid any more public bailouts.
The PRA said on Monday it would "hold the Co-operative to the delivery of its plans". The regulator also said it would publish the conclusions of a review of the capital position of Britain's eight biggest banks and customer-owned financial services companies on Thursday.
Co-op said its core tier 1 ratio, a measure of the bank's financial strength, was expected to be above 9 percent by the end of 2013 and to increase in the following years. The PRA wants banks to hold at least 7 percent.
(Additional reporting by Laura Noonan; Editing by Sophie Sassard and David Stamp)