Monti Moves to Form Government as Markets Pile on Pressure

Mario Monti
Italy’s 10-year yield climbed above 7 percent as prime minister-in-waiting Mario Monti wrapped up talks on forming a new government. Spain and Belgium Photographer: Alessia Pierdomenico/Bloomberg

Mario Monti, Italy’s premier-in-waiting, wrapped up talks on forming a new government as markets piled on pressure for the former European Union Competition Commissioner to announce his new team.

Monti will hold a press briefing to give details on the talks at 7:30 p.m. in Rome. The premier-designate requested a meeting with Italian President Giorgio Napolitano at 11 a.m. tomorrow, where he will likely present his new Cabinet.

The yield on Italy’s 10-year bond jumped today above the 7 percent threshold that prompted Greece, Ireland and Portugal to seek EU bailouts. The difference with German bunds rose 37 basis points to 529, more than twice the average of the past year.

“I think the government has been born and I think we will get the names tonight or maybe tomorrow morning,” Altero Matteoli, outgoing Transport Minister, said on a talk show on SKY TG24.

Monti is trying to persuade Italy’s two largest parties to nominate members to his new Cabinet as he tries to form as broad a parliamentary base as possible for his new government. So far, neither Silvio Berlusconi’s People of Liberty party no the Democratic Party, the second-largest group, have committed to supporting any politicians in the Cabinet.

Party Talks

Monti has reached agreement with the main parties to get parliamentary support for his government, Raffaele Bonanni, head of the Cisl union, told reporters after meeting the premier-in-waiting today. Monti said he “was confident” he’d have enough political support, Emma Marcegaglia, head of Confindustria, the nation’s employers lobby, said after talks with Monti.

The leaders of the main parties weren’t that explicit. Speaking after their meetings, Democratic Party leader Pier Luigi Bersani said today he supported a Monti government with “a strong technical character.” Angelino Alfano, head of the PDL, said Monti’s bid to form a new government is “poised for success” and that implementing the austerity measures the Berlusconi government pledged to the EU “represent the cornerstone” of our support for Monti’s administration.

“A government without any parliamentarians in it will have problems,” Massimo D’Alema, a former premier and member of the Democratic Party, said in an interview last night on state-run Rai3 television. ‘This will require that we give him some help in parliament.”

Crisis Contagion

Europe’s inability to contain a regional debt crisis that started in Greece more than two years ago led to a surge in Italian borrowing costs as investors bet on which nation may need aid next. Monti, an economist and former adviser to Goldman Sachs Group Inc., will try to reassure investors that Italy can cut a 1.9 trillion-euro ($2.6 trillion) debt and spur economic growth that has lagged behind the euro-region average for more than a decade.

As support for a Monti government built last week, 10-year bond yields narrowed more than 100 basis points from the euro-era record of 7.48 percent on Nov. 9 and the yield difference with German bund fell to six-day low of 446 basis points. The rally was short-lived, with the spread back above 500 basis points today.

Napolitano offered Monti the post of premier on Nov. 13, a day after Berlusconi resigned. Berlusconi’s government had unraveled after defections ended his parliamentary majority and the country’s 10-year bond yield surged to euro-era records.

Situation ‘Serious’

Senate Deputy Speaker Emma Bonino, a member of the Radical Party, told reporters in Rome that “the situation is so serious it requires a direct involvement of politicians.”

Monti experienced his first market test yesterday when the Treasury sold 3 billion euros of five-year bonds, the top target for the auction, at the highest yield since 1997. Italy paid 6.29 percent, up from 5.32 percent at the last sale on Oct. 13. Italy faces 200 billion euros in maturing bonds next year.

“The economic and fiscal challenges facing Mr. Monti are daunting” as a country “expected to generate no growth next year is being asked to undertake one of the sharpest two-year fiscal adjustments in the euro zone,” Nicholas Spiro, managing director of Spiro Sovereign Strategy in London, said in an e-mail. “Politically speaking, things could get very rough for Mr. Monti’s government.”

ECB Backstop

The European Central Bank has been buying Italian debt since Aug. 8 after the nation unveiled 45.5 billion euros in austerity measures, though the effort hasn’t been sufficient to stem borrowing costs. The ECB said yesterday it bought almost half as many bonds last week as in the previous week, with German council member Jens Weidmann saying that the “co-option of monetary policy for fiscal needs must come to an end.”

The EU has signaled it wants additional action by Italy to spur growth and trim debt as well as hasten implementation of the measures it’s already passed, which include raising the retirement age, opening up closed professions and selling real-estate assets. EU and ECB inspectors arrived in Italy last week to review progress and Berlusconi also agreed to International Monetary Fund monitoring of Italian finances.

“An attempt to restrict the government to implementing the economic commitments promised to the EU and IMF, or placing a strict time limit on its duration in office, would curtail any possibility of a strong government,” Eoin Ryan, an analyst at IHS Global Insight in London, said in an e-mailed note. “The markets are expecting a bigger response than this.”

Berlusconi was the fourth leader of a southern EU nation to be brought down by fallout from the debt crisis, after Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou resigned last week, Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero decided not to seek re-election this month and Portuguese Premier Jose Socrates stepped down in March after parliament nixed his austerity plan.

Monti has said he’ll focus on fixing public finances and boosting economic growth. Both houses of parliament must hold confidence votes to confirm the new government, which should be in place before Nov. 18, Chamber Speaker Gianfranco Fini said yesterday.

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