Euro-Area Finance Chiefs Keep Pressure on Italy to Alter Budget

Italy signaled it’s not ready to budge on its controversial budget even as euro-area finance ministers called on it to prepare revised spending plans that comply with the bloc’s rules, in a sign that the standoff between Brussels and Rome is set to escalate in the coming weeks.

The finance chiefs’ call comes amid a dispute over budget plans that the EU says go against Italy’s commitments to reduce its debt load. In an unprecedented rebuke, the European Commissionasked Italy last month to submit revised spending plans by Nov. 13, after it essentially rejected the country’s budget for 2019, saying that it constitutes a clear deviation from commonly agreed rules.

Giovanni Tria

But despite repeated warnings, Italian Finance Minister Giovanni Tria told reporters after the meeting in Brussels on Monday with his euro-area counterparts that the government would not change the budget law. The defiance means that even though Italy is willing to engage in talks with the commission over its spending plans, it’s unlikely to make sufficient concessions to appease Brussels.

“We expect a new and revised draft budgetary plan by Nov. 13 and that is a necessity,” EU economic affairs chief Pierre Moscovici told reporters after the meeting. “And the questions we have raised are still on the table.”

Better Explanations

The commission’s call for a revised budget came after months of discord over the spending targets, which sent Italian bond yields to a four-year high last month.

But Tria also expressed optimism that Italian securities would recover. “We hope that the spread will go down when our strategy is better understood,” he said. “And maybe after the dialogue with the commission.”

During Monday’s meeting, the Italian finance chief told his colleagues that the country’s planned deviation was not huge and that EU rules allow for some flexibility, while he reiterated his government’s commitment to reduce the country’s debt load, an official familiar with the discussion said.

But Italy’s willingness to further explain the numbers and policies in the spending plans is unlikely to be enough to address the commission’s concerns.

In a joint statement, the bloc’s ministers said they agreed with the assessment by the commission and called on Italy to engage in “open and constructive dialogue” and to cooperate closely with the commission “in the preparation of a revised budgetary plan which is in line with the stability and growth pact.”

The statement also stressed the importance of sufficient debt reduction, a clear message to Italy, which has the highest debt ratio in the euro area after Greece.

‘Plan B’

Despite repeated warnings, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has said there’s no “Plan B” for the fiscal program, indicating the government has little intention to comply with EU demands.

Once Italy responds to the commission, the EU’s executive arm will have three weeks to publish its final assessment on whether the country’s spending plans are in breach of EU rules. One possible outcome, EU officials say, would be for the commission to bring up to Nov. 21 the publication of a report on Italy’s compliance with EU rules on debt that was originally planned for the spring.

EU Rules

If the report shows that Italy is failing to comply with rules on reducing its debt — which is more than twice the EU limit — then that could trigger the so-called excessive deficit procedure, a process that could eventually lead to financial sanctions for the government in Rome. The penalty could reach 0.2 percent of the country’s annual economic output, which was 1.7 trillion euros ($1.9 trillion) in 2017.

Euro-Area Finance Chiefs Talk Italy Amid Sanctions Threat

Financial penalties proposed by the commission have to be approved by member states, which can block the process. But while Brussels has limited powers over national budgets, governments have in the past sought to avoid an official reprimand because of the stigma and the potential market implications.

Under EU rules, no country should have a budget deficit larger than 3 percent of gross domestic product or debt above 60 percent of output and those that are outside of those limits must set annual targets to show they’re moving in the right direction. While Italy’s deficit is well within the 3 percent limit, the commission has demanded smaller gaps for the country to bring down its debt load.


Italy Budget Deal Could Use `Standby’ on Some Items: Messaggero

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte is seeking to mediate between the coalition partners backing Italy’s government and the European Union to ease tensions amid a standoff over the country’s proposed budget for 2019, Il Messaggero reported Sunday.

Among the proposals for compromise: up to 17 billion euros ($19.4 billion) earmarked for the so-called citizens income program and for reform of the pension system could be placed in a separate fund as a “standby,” the newspaper said, without citing anyone.

The funds would then be attributed to the relevant programs “only if the situation permits it,” Messaggero reported. Reform of the pension plan, originally targeted at a cost of 7 billion euros, could fall to 5.5 billion euros.

Conte and Finance Minister Giovanni Tria, “with tacit support” from the government’s main backers, Matteo Salvini of the League and Luigi Di Maio of the Five Star Movement, have also floated a possible “re-modulation” of the citizen’s income program — an aid plan for needy Italians.

The possible adjustments could bring Italy’s deficit to 2.3 percent, compared with the 2.4 percent in the current budget plan, Messaggero reported, citing a person working on the plan.


ECB Sticks to Plan to Curb Stimulus Even on Darker Outlook

ECB Sticks to Plan to Curb Stimulus Even on Darker Outlook

  • Decision comes after lackluster growth, confidence indicators
  • Mario Draghi holds media briefing at 2:30 p.m. in Frankfurt
By Xiaoqing Pi(Bloomberg) —

The European Central Bank still intends to cap its bond-buying by year-end and leave room for an interest-rate increase late next year, even amid mounting signs that the euro-area economy is wilting under global pressures.The Frankfurt-based institution said it will buy 15 billion euros ($17 billion) of bonds a month through December, with a final decision to end the program contingent on incoming information. Policy makers reiterated that interest rates will remain at their present record lows “at least through the summer” of 2019.

ECB interest rates Current level
Deposit rate minus 0.4 percent
Main refinancing rate zero
Marginal lending rate 0.25 percent

Attention now turns to President Mario Draghi’s press briefing at 2:30 p.m. in Frankfurt, where he will explain the Governing Council’s decision.

The euro was barely moved by the statement, trading up 0.2 percent at $1.1411 at 1:56 p.m.

“Expect a dovish spin in the press conference,” said Christoph Rieger, Commerzbank AG’s head of fixed-rate strategy. “Deteriorating economic and market sentiment are increasing the risks to the ECB’s baseline scenario.”

A key point investors will focus on is the assessment of economic prospects. Since policy makers characterized risk to the outlook as “broadly balanced” six weeks ago, domestic momentum has weakened and uncertainty around global growth has increased.

A gauge for private-sector growth in the euro area slowed to the weakest since 2016 — a level IHS Markit said Wednesday “would historically be consistent with a bias toward loosening monetary policy.” Confidence in the region’s largest economy slid.

Draghi’s list of concerns is long. Underlying inflation continues to be muted, trade tensions between the U.S. and China are starting to take their toll on the Asian economy and export-focused companies in Europe and around the world, and risks of a disorderly Brexit are running high.

A standoff between the Italian government and the European Commission over the country’s budget probably also features prominently. The spread between Italian and German 10-year bonds is hovering near a five-year high, approaching levels seen as unsustainable for banks.

Moreover, global markets have tumbled this month. An equities rout wiped out U.S. gains for the year, and the Stoxx Europe 600 is down almost 8 percent this month.

Investors are also looking for information on whether the ECB will change its reinvestment policy once net purchases end.



Italy’s Conte Rules Out `Plan B’ on Budget as He Seeks Dialogue

Italy’s Conte Rules Out `Plan B’ on Budget as He Seeks Dialogue

  • Premier Giuseppe Conte speaks in Bloomberg interview in Rome
  • Conte says ‘we are not gamblers,’ Italy won’t leave EU or euro
By John Follain and Alessandra Migliaccio

(Bloomberg) — 

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte insisted his government has no “Plan B” to change its budget, despite the skeptical responses of the European Commission and investors.

Conte said in a Bloomberg News interview that he was looking forward to talking with European commissioners and explaining the 2019 budget to them. He suggested that Italy has some leeway to tweak aspects of the plan, and not actual spending. But if he is asked to change the substance, “it will be difficult for me because I cannot accept that.”

Giuseppe Conte in Rome, Oct. 23.

“There isn’t any B plan,” Conte said in the interview in English at his Rome office on Tuesday. “I said that the deficit at 2.4 percent of GDP is the cap. I can say this will be our cap,” he said, in reference to the planned budget deficit for next year.

Italy’s populist government, a coalition of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement and the anti-migrant League, looks to be on a collision course with Brussels as its spending targets far exceed EU limits. The commission, the EU’s executive, is due to respond to Italy’s spending plans later on Tuesday, when it may opt to formally demand that Rome takes back, revises and resubmits its budget.

Euro Commitment

Financial markets are responding to Italy’s chafing at EU rules. Italian bonds fell for the fourth time in five sessions earlier on Tuesday, while the 10-year spread over similar German debt touched a five-year high during trading on Friday.

“We are ready to reduce maybe, to operate a spending review if necessary,” Conte said. “You have to consider that we are not gamblers that are betting on our kids’ future on the roulette.” Economic growth is “the best way in order to take us out of a debt trap,” he said.

Conte dismissed the prospect of the spread with German bunds reaching 400 basis points, a level that Credit Suisse AG said could put unsustainable pressure on Italy’s banking system. He also reaffirmed Italy’s commitment to the euro. “I have the evidence that part of the spread is due to the prospect of Italexit,” Conte said.

“I can assure that this executive will not accompany this country, Italy, out of Europe,” he said. “We feel very comfortable, we feel at home in Europe and we think that the euro is our currency and will be our currency, the currency of my kid, he’s 11 years old, and the currency of my grandchildren.”


Italy Calls for Dialogue on `Necessary’ Breach of Deficit Rules

Italy Calls for Dialogue on `Necessary’ Breach of Deficit Rules

By Kevin Costelloe and Lorenzo Totaro

(Bloomberg) — 

Italy’s populist government promised it won’t let its budget deficit widen further than currently planned and called for dialogue with the European Union to address their differences.

In a letter to the European Commission published Monday, Finance Minister Giovanni Tria said the government is ready to act to ensure it doesn’t exceed the 2.4 percent target for 2019. He said he’s aware that his spending plans don’t comply with EU rules and he wants “constructive” talks with officials in Brussels. Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, speaking in Rome, said the deficit target should be seen as an upper limit and it could still be narrower.

Giovanni Tria

The decision to increase spending was “difficult though necessary,” Tria said in his letter. He cited slow economic growth and the “difficult economic situation the poorest segments of the Italian society are facing.”

Italian bonds rose slightly, with the spread over German 10-year yields narrowing by 6 basis points to 296. The gap reached a five-year high of 341 basis points during trading on Friday.

Tria has come under fire from officials and investors since bowing to pressure from Italy’s coalition heavyweights Matteo Salvini and Luigi Di Maio to allocate resources to their key election promises: tax cuts, more benefits spending, and a lower retirement age. The Commission expressed “serious concern” about Italy’s budget plans in a letter on Thursday.

Delayed Benefits

The finance chief offered no indication that he plans to back down from the headline spending targets, paving the way for the EU to take the unprecedented step of demanding revisions. EU commissioners will discuss the letter response at a meeting in Strasbourg Tuesday, commission spokesman Margaritis Schinastold reporters in Brussels.

“While recognizing the divergence of the respective evaluations, the Italian government will remain in a constructive and fair dialogue,” Tria added. “The government is confident it can get investment and GDP growth moving again and that the recent rise in the government bond yields will be reabsorbed as the investors learn about all the details of the measures in the budget law.”

He added that after 2019 the government doesn’t intend to raise the structural budget deficit — adjusted to take account of the economic cycle and one-time items.

Prime Minister Conte signaled that Italy may not implement some of its most controversial spending plans until later next year, which could potentially lead to a narrower deficit. While the move is unlikely to appease the EU Commission, it was a sign that the government in Rome is looking at ways to reach a face-saving compromise.

“We can still reassess during the budget implementation whether to contain the target so we don’t necessarily need to reach that 2.4 percent,” Conte said. “For sure, we won’t exceed it.”



Italy Refuses to Back Down on Budget Deficit in Response to EU

Italy Refuses to Back Down on Budget Deficit in Response to EU

By Kevin Costelloe and Lorenzo Totaro

(Bloomberg) — 

Italy’s government refused to back down on its budget targets in its reply to European Union criticism of its 2019 spending plans.

In a letter to the European Commission, Finance Minister Giovanni Tria said the government is aware that its plan is “not in line with the applicable norms” of the EU’s stability pact. The letter said if economic growth is better than expected, the structural-deficit targets may be revised.

Tria also said that the government will intervene should the deficit and debt ratios exceed what is targeted in the budget.



Euro may take lower path into ECB as Draghi to maintain rhetoric

Euro could revisit its year-to-date low as persistent political risks may lead Mario Draghi to refrain this week from painting a rosier picture for the bloc’s economy.Market dynamics have shifted only slightly since the European Central Bank’s last meeting, yet not in a supportive way for the common currency. Data may be suggesting the forecasts for growth are broadly on track with the Governing Council’s projections, but on the other hand subdued inflation, early signs of contagion in peripheral bonds, deadlocked Brexit negotiations and a hawkish Federal Reserve could mean the euro could test its $1.1301 mid-August low.

Draghi said he sees a “relatively vigorous” pickup in underlying euro-area inflation following the September monetary policy decision and while wage pressure is building, the pass-through to prices is yet to be seen. At a time when the market looks behind the curve when it comes to additional U.S. tightening, there may be little room for the ECB president to downplay monetary policy divergence projections at the next gathering on Oct. 25.

Price action in the spot market this month showed that the euro could benefit from a Brexit resolution. U.K. and EU officials keep kicking the can down the road however as obstacles remain, with focus now turning to a December EU summit, as volatility shows. European Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker present conclusions from the Oct. 18-19 summit to the EU Parliament this week, with the bar high for a positive surprise.

For the short-term, investors are looking closely at the performance of euro-
area peripheral bonds as the rift between Italy and the EU widens. Italy’s 10-year yield spread over Germany touched the highest in more than five years following a letter from the European Commission to Rome that said its spending plans were excessive. While resilience was the name of the game initially, Spanish bonds led the widening versus bunds on Thursday and the 10-year Portugal yield rose by 8 basis points Friday to 2.11 percent, highest since May.

The euro hit $1.1433 on Friday, flirting with a two-month low. Bloomberg’s fear-greed indicator shows bears are in firm control of price action, while a crossover in short-term moving averages suggests the latest rally for the dollar has legs to follow.

Leveraged names may be short the euro already, yet model names are seen selling technical breaks, according to two traders in Europe, who asked not to be identified because they are not authorized to speak publicly. As the market looks short gamma below $1.1400, further weakness for the common currency could mean traders will need to chase the market lower. As long as the euro stays below its 55-daily moving average, currently at $1.1579, bulls will be kept on their toes.

Source: MacauDailyTimes


Italian Markets Set for Relief as Risk of Junk Rating Ebbs

Italian government bonds, stocks and debt from Europe’s other peripheral nations may rally on Monday after a ratings decision by Moody’s Investors Service removed the immediate threat of a downgrade to junk.

Moody’s cut Italy’s credit rank by one step to Baa3, its lowest investment-grade rating, on concern the government’s budget will erode its fiscal strength and stall plans for structural reform. But its decision to set the outlook for the assessment at “stable” may be enough to reassure investors after a selloff pushed yields on the nation’s 10-year bonds to the highest since 2014.

“This was the softest move possible and should be a relief for investors,” Ciaran O’Hagan, the head of euro-area rates strategy at Societe Generale, said in emailed comments. He recommended investors buy Italian government bonds after the decision. “Uncertainty has been removed. This deserves to be rewarded with a good rally.”

Company Rating Outlook Notches above junk
Moody’s Baa3 Stable 1
Standard & Poor’s BBB Stable 2
Fitch BBB Negative 2
DBRS BBBH Stable 3

Italy’s financial markets have been under pressure since the coalition government pushed for a higher-than-expected deficit in its budget, damaging investor confidence in its ability to reduce its 2.3 trillion-euro ($2.7 trillion) debt load and setting it on a collision course with European authorities. It also raised concern ratings firms would cut the nation below investment grade, triggering forced selling of government bonds.

While it leaves Italy with its lowest credit rating since the euro was formed, the downgrade fell short of investors’ worst expectations, paving the way for a relief rally. The 10-year yield touched 3.81 percent on Friday, a level last seen in 2014 when the nation was still recovering from Europe’s sovereign debt crisis. And while the securities did stage a late-day bounce to close at 3.48 percent, that’s still more than double this year’s lows and represents a premium of more than 300 basis points over benchmark German bunds.

By some measures, Italian bonds had already been trading in line with junk-rated nations.

SocGen wasn’t alone in expecting Moody’s to stick at a “stable” outlook. A one-step downgrade may see the 10-year yield spread narrow toward 250 basis points, Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria SA saidbefore the decision. Strategists at Citigroup Inc. saidthe yield gap would drop below 300 basis points in their base-case scenario of a one-notch downgrade and the removal of the negative outlook.

S&P Global Ratings, which rates Italy two notches above junk, is due to review the country on Oct. 26. Having upgraded Italy this time last year, that company “is not going to want to yoyo around,” SocGen’s O’Hagan wrote. Once its decision is out of the way, it will “eliminate one more uncertainty in the lead-up to year-end,” and that will translate into higher prices for Italian government bonds, he said.

Still, there are plenty of question marks hanging over Italy. Its swollen debt relative to its gross domestic product gives the government little financial wiggle room, while it remains under pressure due to internal disputes within the volatile coalition at home and European Union criticism of the budget.

The country’s biggest newspapers have already been running front-page stories about the bond spread as investors balk at the budget targets unveiled by the populist government. It may take further reassurances before “lo spread” — which entered Italian vernacular when the country was struggling to survive the European debt crisis — moves back out of the spotlight.

The prospect of turmoil within the ruling coalition is likely to become the dominant theme for bond investors from now on, according to Raffaele Bertoni, head of debt-capital markets at Gulf Investment Corp. in Kuwait City.

There’s a continued “risk of tension within the coalition over the budget,” Bertoni said in a Bloomberg TV interview. “Going forward, the market will focus more on the internal issues of the Italian government rather than the rating.”

The spread will tighten no more than 20 basis points on Monday, Bertoni added.


How Europe’s Key Election Is Leaving Voters Cold: Five Charts

Traders and investors have been glued to their screens as Italy’s populist government takes on the European Union establishment. The clash may provide a preview of the battle that will be played out in next year’s elections for the EU Parliament.

The continent’s politicians are gearing up for an epic campaign that may determine whether six decades of integration can survive a resurgence of nationalism.

Still, the voters who will decide are yet to really tune in, with a third saying they most likely won’t participate, according to the Eurobarometer survey published this week.

European voters have traditionally paid far more attention to their national elections than ballots for an EU legislature that still feels distant for many.

People really care about immigration, the key issue for nationalists like Italy’s Matteo Salvini and Viktor Orban of Hungary. The plan for more integration that French President Emmanuel Macron is pushing fails to stir passions in the same way.

It may be the U.K. that’s due to leave before the election, but Italians are even less enthusiastic about EU membership.

But most people aren’t even of when this election is due to take place anyway. (It’s May 23-26.)


Italian Bonds Plunge, Euro Slides as EU Takes Aim at Budget Plan

Italy’s bonds plunged Thursday just hours after the Treasury successfully conducted a bond-exchange operation as the European Union’s executive body dispatched a letter to the nation’s government and investors sharpened their focus on budget concerns. The euro also fell.

The yield on Italy’s 10-year surged as much as 15 basis points to around 3.70 percent on an intraday basis, widening the spread over equivalent German debt to levels unseen since 2013, while Europe’s common currency slid as much as 0.4 percent to $1.1455. Italy’s Draft Budgetary Plan for 2019 constitutes “an obvious significant deviation” from European Union rules, Commissioners Valdis Dombrovskis and Pierre Moscovici wrote in a letterto the country’s finance minister that was released publicly after the local bond market closed.

The missive from the EU marks the start of a process, which could culminate in a decision by the European Commission to issue a negative opinion next week — essentially rejecting Italy’s budget — and asking the Italian government to send it back with revisions. That has never happened before.

“The Italian government is going to get further into this standoff with the EU,” said Ben Emons, chief economist at Intellectus Partners LLC. “The market is continuing to realize that there is not going to be an easy resolve and there will be a lot of brinkmanship as we are seeing.”

Italian Finance Minister Giovanni Tria said the EU and Italy have different views about the country’s policies and he hoped “with dialogue” these views would “come closer together.” Moscovici said the letter is not final and there is still time which should be “used productively” to continue to exchange views.

European Central Bank president Mario Draghi for his part told EU leaders at a summit in Brussels Thursday that questioning the bloc’s rules can worsen financial conditions and damage growth, according to an official familiar with his remarks, which are likely aimed at Italy’s budget dispute with the Commission.

For story on EU’s comments on Italian budget, click here.

The country also faces credit-rating decisions from S&P Global Ratings and Moody’s Investors Service before the end of the month, with both companies ranking Italy just two notches above junk.

The market moves came in the wake of an bond exchange operation by the Italian Treasury, which saw the government switch 3.8 billion euros ($4.38 billion) of inflation-linked securities, known as BTP Italia, for five nominal bonds with maturities ranging from 2025 to 2046. That was more than the 3 billion-euro outlined by the Treasury beforehand, but bond investors soon took umbrage, pushing the yield spread over Germany to the highest level in more than five years.

‘Despondent Mood’

“The Treasury released much more duration in the market, which is going to weigh on BTPs as whole,” said Antoine Bouvet, a strategist at Mizuho International Plc. “This confirms the despondent mood in BTP markets.”

Italy’s bonds have been roiled in recent months by the prospect that its new government’s spending plans would fall foul of EU rules and add to its already hefty stock of debt — around 130 percent of gross domestic product. The Treasury likely wanted to take advantage of a slim window of opportunity before headlines continue to bruise Italy’s ailing debt market, according to Societe Generale SA.

“They need to raise cash so finding a quiet time to do that is important,” said Ciaran O’Hagan, head of European rates strategy. The Italian Treasury “needs to refinance maturing debt by issuing new bonds and that process is almost continuous given that Italy is Europe’s largest issuer.”

Italy bought back the BTP Italia maturing in April 2020 and sold bonds maturing in 2025, 2028, 2029 and 2046 through a syndication of banks. Italy’s 10-year yields climbed 11 basis points to 3.66 percent, with the spread over Germany hitting 326 basis points, the highest level since April 2013. The bonds of Spain and Portugal also dropped, with the former having to digest its own wave of supply, while yield on U.S. Treasuries fell amid a bid for safer assets.

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