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For Sale! World’s oldest bank, Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena

Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena SpA, Italy’s No. 3 bank and the world’s oldest, is up for sale.

The Tuscan lender, the worst performer in Europe’s recent banking “stress tests,” has hired investment bankers at UBS AG UBS 0.29% and Citigroup Inc.C, 0,26% to find a buyer or merger partner, these people said. The sale process formally got under way this week, after the same two investment banks lined up underwriters for a planned €2.5 billion ($3.09 billion) stock sale for Monte dei Paschi.

Monte dei Paschi’s goal is to find a buyer or merger partner before the so-called rights offering is actually consummated, possibly making that offering unnecessary, these people say. The rights offering is expected to take place in the second quarter of 2015.

It isn’t clear how much Monte dei Paschi might fetch in any sale. The bank’s shares, which have declined 40% this year, are currently worth a total of about €3.4 billion.

The people say UBS and Citigroup bankers are in the very early stages of identifying possible bidders for Monte dei Paschi, which was founded in 1472 and is considered the world’s oldest bank. The list includes midsize Italian rival UBI Banca, as well as some large European banks that already operate in Italy. Monte dei Paschi executives haven’t actually met with any potential suitors. UBI previously has said it isn’t involved in any negotiations with Monte dei Paschi.