ECB chief warns Italy over public finances
Cernobbio (Italy), September 4, 2011
European Central Bank (ECB) President Jean-Claude Trichet stepped up warnings over Italy's strained public finances, telling the struggling centre-right government it must act quickly to reassure nervous markets.
Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, hit by a renewed bout of scandal this week, has caused growing alarm over the failure of his divided government to pass clear measures to cut back Italy's 1.9 trillion euro ($2,726 billion) debt mountain.
Speaking after a week of steadily rising market pressure on Italian bonds, Trichet repeated that the government had to meet last month's pledge of a clear plan to balance the budget by 2013 and pass reforms to boost Italy's stagnant economy.
"This is absolutely decisive to consolidate and reinforce the quality and the credibility of the Italian strategy and its creditworthiness," he said.
The ECB, which has been buying Italy's bonds in the market to try to hold down yields and stop its borrowing costs spiralling out of control, has been stepping up warnings that Rome must act quickly.
There has been some speculation that it might reduce its purchases to put pressure on Rome to act more quickly to pass a much disputed 45.5bn euro package of austerity measures now going through parliament.
However, any sign of the ECB cutting back its bond-buying programme would risk triggering a market sell-off that could tip the euro zone's third economy into a Greek-style emergency.
According to participants at a closed-door session in Cernobbio, Trichet declined to speak about the programme.
"I'm not going to tell you what we're doing on bond buying but we have a meeting next week," Trichet said.
Underlining the growing urgency of the situation, the premium investors demand to hold Italian debt rather than benchmark German bonds rose on Friday to 331 basis points, the highest since the ECB started buying Italian paper in August.
Yields on 10-year Italian bonds ended the week at 5.29 per cent, creeping back up towards the 7pc level generally regarded as unmanageable.-Reuters