Italy's debt costs approach red zone
29 December 2010
, by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard (The Telegraph)http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/financetopics/financialcrisis/8230413/Italys-debt-costs-approach-red-zone.htmlExcerpt:Italy's borrowing costs have jumped to the highest level since the financial crisis over two years ago, raising concerns that Europe's biggest debtor may slip from the eurozone's stable core into the high-risk group on the periphery
. Yields on 10-year bonds rose 10 basis points to 4.86% after a poor auction of short-term debt in Rome
. The Italian treasury had to pay 1.7% to sell €8.5bn (£7.2bn) of six-month bills in a thin post-Christmas market, up from 1.48% a month ago.
The spike in rates came as money supply data released by the European Central Bank showed that real M1 deposits have collapsed at a rate of 2.8% over the last six months in the EMU bloc of Italy, Spain, Greece, Ireland and Portugal, even though they are rising in northern Europe
"This is comparable with the decline in early 2008 just ahead of the plunge into recession," said Simon Ward from Henderson Global Investors. "The eurozone periphery is locked into a 'double dip' that will undermine fiscal consolidation
Italy's M1 contraction began later than elsewhere in southern Europe but is now accelerating. M1 typically gives advance warning of economic shifts by six to nine months
---German Chancellor Angela Merkel vetoed the creation of eurobonds or any serious move towards fiscal union
, and shot down calls for an increase in the eurozone's €440bn emergency loan fund. The ECB has so far refused to step in to the breach with overwhelming action.
Willem Buiter, Citigroup's chief economist, said the response had been "woefully inadequate", raising the risk of fresh bank failures and a wave of sovereign defaults next year. He said the EU authorities may need a mix of measures worth up to €2 trillion to stop the rot
Italy avoided the sort of property bubble seen in Spain or Ireland and has kept a tight rein on public spending under finance minister Giulio Tremonti. However, the rise in yields looks ominously like the pattern seen in Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Spain when they first began to lose easy access to the capital markets
Neil Mellor, currency strategist at the Bank of New York Mellon, said big institutional investors have been pulling funds out of Italy and rotating into German debt on a large scale
. "Our flow data shows that the trend has been just as concerted out of Italian debt as it has been out of Irish or Greek debt. Italy should be able to weather 2011 in good shape but the government's debt dynamics are very poor," he said.Italy is too big to be rescued by a diminishing group of creditor states in the EMU core, should it ever need help
. Public debt will creep up to 120% of GDP next year
– or over €1.9 trillion – a level widely seen as the outer limit of debt sustainability.
The country's trump card is a high savings rate and low private debt. Total debt is 245% of GDP
, below the eurozone average, and much lower than in Spain, Britain, the US or Japan. This may be the relevant indicator for an economy as a whole.However, low private debt may equally reflect deep pessimism in a country where growth has been glacial for a decade, productivity has fallen since 1995, and global export share is in steep decline