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ECB Hands Italy An Ultimatum: ‘Obey EU Budget Rules Or We Won’t Save You’

With the Washington Post stepping up to put a floor under US stocks Thursday afternoon by reporting that President Trump would meet Chinese President Xi Jinping at next month’s G-20 summit (while the headline soothed the market, it doesn’t change the fact that, as with everything involving the Trump administration, this too remains subject to change), investors have apparently overlooked the latest ominous headlines out of Italy. To wit, Reuters reported that the ECB won’t come to Italy’s rescue if its government or banks run out of cash unless the Italian government first secures a bailout from the European Union. Of course, this would almost certainly require that the populist coalition end its ongoing game of fiscal chicken with Brussels and abandon its  dreams of lowering the retirement age and extending a basic income to the Italian people – policies that would effectively secure a political future for M5S and the League.

In effect, the ECB’s latest trial balloon is tantamount to blackmail: Either the Italians agree to fall back in line and obey European budgetary guidelines, or the central bank will sit back and watch as bond yields surge, providing the ratings agencies even more ammunition to cut Italian debt to junk – effectively guaranteeing a Greece-style banking crisis as the liquidity taps are turned off.

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And to eliminate any lingering doubts that this was a deliberate coordinated leak, Reuters cited “five senior sources familiar with the ECB’s thinking,” many of whom were “present at the economic summit in Indonesia.” Of course, the ECB sources explained that they are merely acting in the best interest of the monetary union. Because if Italy is allowed to shake off the yoke of European austerity and re-assert its sovereignty, then what would stop Spain or Portugal from doing the same?

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