December 14, 2018

Italian Debt Adds to Fears in Euro Zone

Finance ministers in the euro zone had previously scheduled two days of talks to begin on Monday afternoon in Brussels, with an emphasis on how to resolve Greece’s troubles. Over the weekend, a meeting of more senior officials was set for Monday morning.

A spokesman for Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Council, denied that senior officials would discuss the state of Italy’s finances, which many investors consider increasingly precarious. But another official, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly, said Italy would probably be on the agenda.

For Italy, the cost of financing its debt rose at the end of the week, though nowhere near the levels faced by Greece. The spread between the yield on the Italian 10-year bond and the German equivalent widened on Friday to 2.36 percentage points, the most since the introduction of the euro.

Italy’s cost of borrowing for 10 years is now about 5.27 percent. Meanwhile, its blue-chip stock market index, the FTSE MIB, fell 3.5 percent.

Investors were unnerved in part by evidence of a growing divide between the Italian prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, and the finance minister, Giulio Tremonti, who has been praised for his handling of the economy during the financial crisis and for maintaining control of the budget deficit.

The euro zone has been shaken by the fiscal troubles of Greece, Portugal and Ireland, though their economies are relatively small. The Italian economy is more than twice the size of the combined economies of those three countries. If investors were to drive Italy’s borrowing costs to unsustainable levels, it could imperil the entire European monetary union.

Even without Italy, European officials have a big task in the coming days. They have reached an impasse of sorts on whether to include the private sector in a second Greek bailout, which is considered essential to controlling the crisis that has so far been limited to the smaller economies on the Continent.

Some officials now believe that any bailout plan involving a substantial but voluntary contribution from private investors in Greek debt would be declared a selective default by the bond rating agencies Moody’s, Standard Poor’s and Fitch. The officials’ objectives of achieving a private sector contribution that is voluntary and substantial — but which is not judged a selective default — may not be possible.

If voluntary steps would cause such an event, these officials say, then more radical options may as well be considered, including requiring banks and other private investors to take part.

Speaking on Sunday at a conference in Aix-en-Provence, France, the president of the European Central Bank, Jean-Claude Trichet, said Europe was at the “epicenter” of a debt crisis that had to be of concern to the entire developed world. He urged euro zone officials to do the “maximum” in terms of governance reforms, Bloomberg News reported. He has also been adamant about keeping debt reduction by private investors out of any bailout plan.

The special session of top European officials is to start about 8:30 a.m. Monday, when a scheduled meeting between Mr. Van Rompuy and the president of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, will be expanded to include Mr. Trichet; the European commissioner for economic and monetary affairs, Olli Rehn; and Jean-Claude Juncker, the finance minister for Luxembourg, who presides over meetings of the so-called Eurogroup of finance ministers from the 17 countries that use the euro as their official currency.

Vittorio Grilli, the director general of the Italian treasury, is also scheduled to attend. But Dirk De Backer, a spokesman for Mr. Van Rompuy, said Mr. Grilli would be there in his capacity as head of the euro zone’s Economic and Financial Committee and not to discuss his country’s economy.

Liz Alderman contributed reporting from Paris.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/11/business/global/italy-becoming-a-bigger-priority-for-euro-zone.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

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