/ 1 November 2011

Berlusconi promises reform amid demands for new govt

Berlusconi Promises Reform Amid Demands For New Govt

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi repeated promises of economic reform on Tuesday as Italian bonds came under renewed attack in the eurozone crisis and the centre left opposition asked the president to name a new government.

With markets reeling from an unexpected decision by Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou to hold a referendum over austerity measures demanded by the European Union (EU), Italian bonds were hit by a new wave of selling.

Yields on Italy’s 10 year BTP bonds rose to 6.34%, an unsustainable level just short of the point they reached in August when the European Central Bank (ECB) stepped in to prop up the market by buying Italian debt.

The risk premium over benchmark German Bunds rose to 450 basis points — the widest spread since the creation of the euro more than a decade ago — while the blue chip FTSE MIB share index was down 6.8% with bank shares sold off heavily.

Berlusconi said he would outline reforms promised to Italy’s EU partners at Thursday’s meeting of leaders from the Group of 20 economic powers in Cannes and promised the programme would be implemented with the “determination, rigour and speed which the situation demands.”

However Italy’s main centre left opposition party repeated calls for Berlusconi to resign, saying it had asked President Giorgio Napolitano to appoint a new government immediately.

“We are pointing to the necessity — which has now become urgent, a matter of minutes — for a political change to face the storm,” Enrico Letta, one of the Democratic Party’s senior leadership team, said in a statement.

“Italy is unprepared to deal with the crisis,” he said, adding a new government should be appointed before the G20 meeting.

With Greece facing growing risk of a default which would destabilise the eurozone, Italy, the bloc’s third largest economy, is now at the centre of the crisis.

Too big to bail out if its borrowing costs get out of control, its mix of sluggish growth and a mountainous public debt equivalent to 120% of gross domestic product (GDP) pose a threat to the survival of the single currency.

Last week, treasury was forced to pay a record yield of 6.06% at an auction of its 10 year bonds, a level which would add billions to already heavy interest payments over the coming years if it did not fall.

The ECB intervened again on Tuesday to buy Italian bonds but yields have continued to rise closer to levels of around 7% which many analysts fear could trigger a so-called “buyers’ strike” where it becomes difficult to sell new bonds.

Berlusconi, mired in scandal and struggling to contain divisions in his centre right coalition, has promised new reforms including easier rules on redundancies, including for civil servants and an increase in the pension age.

There has been widespread scepticism about the scope and timing of the measures but he has resisted calls from groups as diverse as the opposition, unions, business leaders and the Catholic Church to resign.

He has survived repeated confidence votes in parliament but there is growing speculation that the government will fall in the coming months, leading to elections in spring, the period when elections in Italy are traditionally held.

Italy’s economy, one of the world’s slowest growing over the past decade, faces a growing risk of recession next year, its problems underlined by unemployment data on Monday which showed a third of its young people out of work. — Reuters