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Italian debt; a financial disaster waiting to happen

Italian debt; a financial disaster waiting to happen

The new Italian government will increase public spending and public debt. It promised to reduce taxes, introduce basic security and reform pensions. Italy’s Northern League’s leader Mateo Salvini surged in the polls and the party is now the strongest in Italy. A couple of years ago it was inconceivable that this regional group could become Italy’s leading political party. We should expect more to come. As the saying goes, it just could not happen till it happened. The financial establishments in North European countries like Germany and the Netherlands assume that the politicians of M5S and Lega Nord will follow the Greek script and will backtrack on their promises. But Mateo Salvini and Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte know that if they do not live up to the expectation of the voters, they will be voted out of office. They are also aware of it that the Italian voter has still another alternative called “CasaPound”, a much more radical, if for the time being insignificant, social and anti-migration movement.

The planned reforms could burden the state budget with an additional 125 billion euros per year. Can the Italian government afford such a thing?1)

The question is rhetorical when you look at Italy’s growing debt mountain.

It amounts to €2300 billion, of which 1900 billion are government bonds. What should worry investors, however, is the structure of this debt. Ten years ago, when the last financial crisis broke out, 51% of these government bonds were hold by foreign investors. When the climate for investment in a country deteriorates, they sell these bonds immediately. When in 2011 the Berlusconi government threatened to withdraw from the eurozone budget rules because of the huge budget deficit, German and French banks sold Italian government bonds BTP (Buoni del Tesoro Poliennali) worth a total of €150 billion. In the following years, foreigners bought Italian debt instruments again for around €100 billion, but their share is now very low at 36%.

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