The Italians are buying their government’s debt

Dhe international financial world may have become suspicious again of Italy’s state finances and their financing – the Italians are far less so. The issuance of a new government bond with a maturity of eight years began earlier in the week. On the first day, savers signed 88,000 contracts at post offices, banks or at home on the computer, bringing in 3.4 billion euros for the Italian state. The trick: The bond is protected against inflation. The state offers a variable return of 1.6 percent over the respective inflation rate (most recently 6.8 percent).

There is also a loyalty bonus of 1 percent of the invested capital if the bond is held for the entire term. Private investors can still access it until this Wednesday. The papers will be offered to institutional investors on Thursday. Then you will have an overview of the entire willingness to invest. Since 2012, Italy has raised more than €171 billion through 16 issuances of such inflation-linked bonds. The last round of spending in May 2020 raised a good 22 billion euros. “Inflation protection is of course very interesting in these times,” said Angelo Drusiani, financial adviser at Edmond de Rothschild, in an interview.

Italy has the second highest debt in the euro area after Greece with around 150 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). The Banca d’Italia has bought up the vast majority of new issues over the past ten years on behalf of the European Central Bank (ECB). This should now come to an end, as the ECB has announced together with rising interest rates. Investors promptly feared that Italy would not be able to find enough open market buyers for its government bonds going forward, and yields soared. The ECB reacted to this with an emergency meeting and reiterated in several public statements that it would not tolerate widely divergent interest rate differentials in the euro area. This calmed the markets somewhat – for the time being. On Wednesday, the risk premium (“spread”) of the ten-year government bond compared to the corresponding federal bond was less than 2.00 percentage points – around 0.5 points lower than a week ago.

But the nervousness has not gone away, especially since it is not clear how the ECB intends to combat “fragmentation” in the euro area. Are the market interventions linked to the condition of structural reforms? Italy has so far resisted tooth and nail. The support for populist parties from the far right to the far left was also based on this rejection of a dictate from Brussels or Frankfurt. Investors’ doubts thus touch on Italy’s political risks. What happens when the largely non-partisan expert government under Prime Minister Mario Draghi resigns after the parliamentary elections next spring?

In the near term, investors are looking at the overall economic situation. The government and international institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the OECD believe growth of 2.5 to 2.6 percent is possible this year; that would be significantly more than is estimated for Germany. In 2023, however, independent economists expect a noticeable decline in the growth rate. Because the war in Ukraine, the planned turn away from gas from Russia, which has been very important up to now, and inflation are leaving their mark. Of course, the price increase also contributes to debt reduction by depreciating the debt and increasing nominal GDP. This is one of the reasons why the government expects the total national debt to fall from just under 151 to 147 percent this year. However, it is also important to note that the government has to pay investors higher yields for inflation-linked bonds.

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