Uh Oh – Italy Is Coming Apart Like A 20 Dollar Suit

Did anyone really think that Italy would be able to get through this thing without needing a bailout?  Just when you thought that things in Europe could get back to normal for a little while, here comes Italy.  On Friday, there was a bit of a “mini-panic” as investors started dumping Italian financial assets.  European officials are concerned that the sovereign debt crisis that has ravaged Greece, Ireland and Portugal will now put the Italian economy through the wringer.  European Council President Herman Van Rompuy has called an emergency meeting for Monday morning.  He is denying that the meeting is about Italy, but everyone knows that Italy is going to be discussed.  European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso along with a host of other top officials will also be at this meeting.  If it does turn out that Italy needs a bailout, it is going to change the entire game in Europe.

What is going on in Italy right now is potentially far more serious than what has been going on in Greece.  Italy is the fourth largest economy in the European Union.  If Italy requires a bailout, the rest of Europe might not be able to handle it.

An anonymous European Central Bank source told one German newspaper the following on Sunday….

“The existing rescue fund in Europe is not sufficient to provide a credible defensive wall for Italy”

The source also added that the current bailout fund “was never designed for that“.

Italy has already implemented austerity measures.

This was not supposed to happen.

But it is happening.

This latest crisis was precipitated by a substantial sell-off of Italian financial assets on Friday.  An article posted by Bloomberg described the pounding that the two largest Italian banks took….

UniCredit SpA (UCG) and Intesa Sanpaolo SpA (ISP), Italy’s biggest banks, fell to the lowest in more than two years in Milan yesterday as contagion from Europe’s debt crisis threatened to spread to the region’s third-largest economy.

UniCredit plunged 7.9 percent, the biggest decline since March 30, 2009, while Intesa dropped 4.6 percent. Both hit lows not seen since the period when markets were emerging from the crisis spawned by the collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc.

Unfortunately, this is just the continuation of a trend that has been going on for a while.

When you look at them as a group, the stocks of the five largest Italian banks have lost 27% since the beginning of 2011.

That is not a good sign.

Also, investors are starting to dump Italian government debt.  Reuters says that the yield on 10 year Italian bonds is approaching the danger zone….

The spread of the Italian 10-year government bond yield over benchmark German Bunds hit euro lifetime highs around 2.45 percentage points on Friday, raising the Italian yield to 5.28 percent, close to the 5.5-5.7 percent area which some bankers think could start putting heavy pressure on Italy’s finances.

The Italian national debt is now up to about 120 percent of GDP.  The Italian government would be able to manage it if interest rates were very, very low.  But unfortunately they are rising fast and if they get too much higher they are going to become suffocating.

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