Saturday 16 December 2017

Ireland 'won't need second bailout' as Italy and Spain face fresh crisis

Donal O'Donovan

Donal O'Donovan

BANKING giant Merrill Lynch said Ireland will not need a second bailout, even as confidence in the wider eurozone appeared to be evaporating last night.

The good news came despite the fact that Italy yesterday was forced to double the price it pays to borrow in the markets.

Meanwhile, fears are growing that Spain can only avoid a bailout if the European Central Bank (ECB) intervenes to prop up its bonds in the market.

"After three months that were calmer than expected, the euro crisis is back," said Holger Schmieding, chief economist at Berenberg Bank in London.

"If fear feeds on fear, as has often been the case in previous waves of crisis, things could potentially get worse," he said.

Italy has debts of close to €2trillion, the largest of any eurozone country. The country needs constant access to the markets at affordable levels in order to avoid a crisis that most analysts think would simply be too big for the eurozone and IMF to cope with. Spain's debt is a smaller figure, but it is the fourth biggest economy in the eurozone and growth has dropped to zero following a property boom and bust.

Efforts to tackle the crisis with budget cuts appear to be panicking investors who fear any further slowdown in the economy will prompt a fresh banking crisis.


A Spanish bailout would be as large as the Irish, Greek and Portuguese rescues combined.

Italy was able to borrow a hefty €11bn yesterday, but only by paying double what it cost the country to borrow in March.

The Italian government paid investors 2.84pc to borrow the bulk of the cash for one year, up from the 1.405pc interest rate charged last month.

Italian borrowing costs had fallen sharply over the previous four months, after the controversial Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was replaced by Mario Monti in November.

The bulk of that reduction was driven by a massive lending spree from the ECB, however, and not the leadership change.

European banks were funnelled more than €1trn in cheap long-term refinancing operations (LTRO) loans from the ECB in two payouts in December and February.

Much of the cash was used to buy government bonds, a move credited with calming the euro zone crisis.

The latest eruption comes as the LTRO effect wears off.

As the effect fades, questions about the sustainability of the Italian debts and the lack of growth in Spain have re-emerged with a vengeance.

Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders said Europe's newly increased permanent European rescue fund won't be able to prop up Italy and Spain, if the crisis unravels further.

Eurozone finance ministers agreed to pump €500bn in fresh money into the fund alongside €300bn that had already been committed to create an €800bn "firewall" against the debt crisis.

"The 800 billion in the ESM aren't enough to save Spain and Italy," Reynders, a former Belgian finance minister, said on his Twitter account today.

Meanwhile, despite growing fears elsewhere, investors have maintained faith in Irish government debt, with prices stable, or even falling.

Yesterday Bill O'Neill, the chief investment officer for Europe, Middle East and Africa at Merrill Lynch Wealth Management said he thinks Ireland will not need a second bailout -- even without a deal on restructuring bank debt.

Irish bonds have been "rock solid" in the past few weeks, even as debt of some other peripheral countries have fallen. "The role of Ireland as a proxy for contagion risk has gone," he said.

(Additional reporting Bloomberg and Reuters)

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