Attention turns from Greece to Italy

Crisis in Italy Deepens, as Bond Yields Hit Record Highs


Italy’s financial crisis deepened on Wednesday despite a pledge by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to resign once Parliament passes austerity measures demanded by the European Union.

The move failed to convince investors, propelling Italy’s borrowing costs through a key financial and psychological barrier of 7 percent, close to levels that have required other euro zone countries to seek bailouts.


yields on 10-year Italian government bonds — the price demanded by investors to lend money to Italy — surged on Wednesday to 7.4 percent, the highest level since the adoption of the euro more than 10 years ago.

In Europe’s months of crisis, yields in excess of 7 percent have triggered calls for bailouts and the subsequent demise of governments in Ireland, Greece and Portugal, but Italy’s debt is much higher than in those countries. The 7 percent barrier is seen partly as a symbolic threshold, but it also reflects hard financial facts: borrowing costs at that level make it difficult for Italy to raise new funds to pay off what it owes. The figure is widely seen by bond market analysts as unsustainable.

In the end, thus, it was not the sex scandals, the corruption trials against him or even a loss of popular consensus that appeared to end Mr. Berlusconi’s 17 years as a dominant figure in Italian political life. It was, instead, the pressure of the markets and the European Union, which could not risk his dragging down the euro and with it the world economy.

Although Mr. Berlusconi’s exit was not immediate — weeks of political wrangling over the austerity measures probably lie ahead — political commentators said they could see no escape this time for the prime minister, whose Houdini-like ability to wriggle free from scandals is legendary.

“A season is over,” said Mario Calabresi, the editor in chief of the Turin daily newspaper La Stampa, who said Mr. Berlusconi told him that he was not only stepping down, but also would not run for office again.

With fears that the debt crisis would spread from Greece to Italy, whose economy is too big to bail out, pressure had been building on Mr. Berlusconi to resign for weeks, including recently from members of his center-right coalition. Even the Roman Catholic Church, whose support is crucial for any Italian government, began harshly criticizing him.

Comment: Imagine a nation having to borrow at a 7.4% rate. An individual can finance a mortgage at 4% here. My HELOC rate is at 4%

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