Interest rates, stress rise on Italian borrowing

Interest rates on 10-year Italian bond move up to 6.69 percent, nearing the 7-plus percent interest rates that forced Greece, Ireland, and Portugal to seek bailouts.  

Mauro Scrobogna/LaPresse/AP
Northern League senators hold up placards reading: "Stop Taxes, Hands off pensions, This austerity package it's a robbery," as Italian Premier Mario Monti addresses the Senate, in Rome, Dec. 14, 2011. Interest rates on Italian bonds reached 6.69 percent as investors demand ever higher premiums to finance Italy's debt.

Europe's debt crisis kept the pressure on governments and markets as Italy's borrowing rates ratcheted higher once again and the euro slid below $1.30 for the first time since the first few days of the year.

The ongoing tensions in the markets Wednesday, which has also seen shares suffer another day of selling, provide further evidence that last Friday's deal to enforce more budgetary disciplines on the 17 euro countries has failed to dampen investor worries over the future of single currency bloc in light of the raging debt crisis.

Italy's last bond auction of the year Wednesday showed the debt-ridden country having to pay even higher borrowing rates to get investors to part with their cash — the eurozone's third-largest economy paid 6.47 percent interest to borrow €3 billion ($3.95 billion) for five years at a bond auction, up from 6.30 percent just a month ago.

Higher interest rates are a sign that last week's agreement to tighten the rules against eurozone governments piling up debt has failed to restore confidence.

That's evident in the performance of the euro too, which has suffered an acute bout of selling since Friday's deal. On Wednesday, it traded below $1.30 for the first time since January 12, hitting a low of $1.2973.

As leaders start the laborious work of putting the deal into practice through a treaty, the questions continued about the financial steadiness of governments, banks and the eurozone economy, which is showing signs of sinking back into recession.

Industrial production figures showed output down a further 0.1 percent in October, a further sign of weakness many think will lead to a recession that will only make repaying debt harder.

Signs of distress are underlining that the deal, while praised as a step toward preventing another buildup of debt in coming years, does not provide a convincing resolution to the crisis. It does not reduce current debt levels and offered little reassurance that eurozone governments will be able to find the money they need to roll over those debts in the coming few months.

It did not convince markets there is a financial backstop big and flexible enough to backstop Italy and Spain, the latest focus of the two-year old debt crisis that began in October, 2009 when Greece admitted its finances were much worse than they had previously said.

Greece, Ireland and Portugal have all needed bailouts as fear of default spread from country to country and drove up their borrowing costs, eventually cutting them off from bond markets.

The summit did come up with a commitment from EU governments to loan another €200 ($264 billion) to the International Monetary Fund, and they agreed to activate a new €500 billion euro backstop fund, the European Stability Mechanism, a year ahead of time in July.

But that has not driven down the yield on Italy's benchmark 10-year bond, which traded at 6.69 percent in the markets Wednesday, uncomfortably close to the plus-7 percent levels that forced Greece, Ireland and Portugal to seek bailouts.

The debt treaty does provide some assurance governments are working together to address the euro's flaws in the long-term. But it will not be signed until March at the earliest, and a text must first win approval from the 17 eurozone governments and nine others that the EU hopes will sign. Britain has said it will not.

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