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As you know by now, the general thinking is: Greece will default eventually. Hopefully it can be contained. What can’t be allowed to happen is the crisis seriously spreading to Italy.In its latest European strategy note, Goldman’s Huw Pill, Francesco Garzarelli, and Peter Oppenheimer take on Italy, where spreads are blowing out to records.
If the Italian government can re-establish its credibility and thereby re-access the market at spreads closer to the ones suggested by our credit analysis, a virtuous cycle of increased confidence, growth and sustainability can emerge both in Italy and, indirectly, in the Euro area as a whole. Re-establishing such credibility and confidence, however, is easier said than done. The measures put forth so far are in line with those announced in previous medium-term reform plans. Strong resistance from interest groups has in the past obstructed their implementation. Domestic political tensions and the frailty of the governing coalition only add to the difficulty of formulating and agreeing on the necessary changes to the social contract, including to inter-generational transfers, which are required for any fiscal programme to be credible. In this context, the quarterly IMF review that Italy has agreed to – and which will be initiated on November 15 – raises the stakes. But it may also provide a credible signal to the market if progress is made (and facilitate the task of transferring international financial resources without a strict ex ante conditionality should unwarranted pressures persist).
The question is: Does Italy really have any hope of establishing this kind of credibility?
Here’s what to watch next:
In the shorter term, we anticipate that Italy will continue to pursue its announced reform agenda. Votes of confidence have been attached to the legislative passage of a number of key elements of the reform programme, the first of which is scheduled in the week of November 14. Ahead of this, the main focus will be on a vote in the Lower House this Tuesday on the approval of last year’s audited budget accounts. This otherwise routine ballot is expected to reveal how much parliamentary support the centre-right government can still rely upon after several MP defections in recent weeks. Should the government fail, possible scenarios include a reshuffle; an interim government of national unity, like the one that is under formation in Greece; or general elections.
Given fragile market sentiment and the perceived lack of delivery by the Italian authorities thus far, tensions in the BTP market are likely to persist. In the short term, these will continue to be contained by the ECB. As said above, we strongly doubt the ECB will force yields down pro-actively, but rather continue preventing discontinuities in the price formation from occurring. That said, the central bank will also likely attempt keeping the 10-yr yield spread between on Italy/Spain and AAA-rated EMU sovereigns below 450bp (for reference, Italy closed on Friday at 400bp over and Spain at 320bp, underscoring the strong pressures on the former). This is roughly the threshold that would trigger higher margin calls in the private sector and thus a shift in the stock of Italian and Spanish debt onto the ECB balance sheet as commercial banks look to fund an increasing share of their government bond portfolio with the central bank.