Ireland Contagion Quickly Jumps to Italy


Inquiring minds are looking across the pond tonight as Italy surprises analysts by spiraling out of control before Portugal.

“The crisis is intensifying and worsening,” said Nick Matthews, a credit expert at RBS. “Bond purchases by the European Central Bank are the only anti-contagion weapon left. It needs to act much more aggressively.”

Investor reaction comes as a bitter blow to eurozone leaders, who expected the €85bn (£72bn) package for Ireland agreed over the weekend to calm “irrational markets”.

While the Irish rescue removed the immediate threat of “haircuts” for senior bondholders of Irish banks, it leaves open the risk of burden-sharing from 2013 on all EMU sovereign bonds and bank debt on a “case-by-case” basis. Traders said bond funds have been dumping Club Med bonds frantically to comply with their “value-at-risk” models before closing books for the year.

Yields on 10-year Italian bonds jumped 21 points to 4.61pc, threatening to shift the crisis to a new level. Italy’s public debt is over €2 trillion, the world’s third-largest after the US and Japan.

“The EU rescue fund cannot handle Spain, let alone Italy,” said Charles Dumas, from Lombard Street Research. “We we may be nearing the point where Germany has to decide whether it is willing take on a burden six times the size of East Germany, or let some countries go.”

Italy distanced itself from trouble in the rest of southern Europe early in the financial crisis, benefiting from rock-solid banks, low private debt, and the iron fist of finance minister Giulio Tremonti. But the crisis of competitiveness never went away, and the country has faced a political turmoil for weeks.

Anybody for a game of dominoes:

If Portugal and Spain have to follow Ireland in tapping the EU’s €440bn bail-out fund – as widely feared after Spanish yields touched 5.4pc – this will put extra strains on Italy as one of a reduced core of creditor states. The rescue mechanism has had the unintended effect of spreading contagion to Italy, and perhaps beyond. French lenders have $476bn of exposure to Italian debt, according to the Bank for International Settlements.

What else is there to say? Reality is hitting and world leaders are realizing that they are out of money. Unfortunately, if you have been watching the news, it appears that Europe does not have the young, hardworking generation to dig itself out.

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