Italy’s credit rating was cut one level by Fitch Ratings as an inconclusive election in February produced political paralysis that threatens the country’s ability to respond to a recession and the European debt crisis.
The rating company lowered Italy’s government bond rating to BBB+ from A- with a negative outlook, according to a statement released today. That’s three levels above junk and one higher than Spain, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
“The increased political uncertainty and non-conducive backdrop for further structural reform measures constitute a further adverse shock to the real economy amidst the deep recession.,” Fitch said. “The ongoing recession in Italy is one of the deepest in Europe.”
Outgoing Prime Minister Mario Monti helped calm the European debt crisis by taming Italy’s budget deficit and implementing reforms aimed at shoring up the country’s finances. Under Monti and prior to the election, Italy’s 10-year bond yield had fallen by almost half from a euro-era record 7.5 percent in November 2011. Monti’s departure coupled with the divided parliament produced by last month’s vote fueled concern Italy may reignite the region’s debt crisis.
Italian government bond futures fell after the Fitch cut. The contract maturing in June fell 0.3 percent to 108.84 at 5:15 p.m. London time. Italian 10-year bonds were little changed today at 4.6 percent.
Investors are paying less attention to the views of ratings companies and relying more on their own analysis. Yields on sovereign securities moved in the opposite direction from what ratings suggested in 53 percent of 32 upgrades, downgrades and changes in credit outlook last year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg published in December.
Investors ignored 56 percent of Moody’s rating and outlook changes and 50 percent of those by Standard & Poor’s. That’s worse than the longer-term average of 47 percent, based on more than 300 changes since 1974.
Fitch also cited risks of “sustained deterioration in fiscal funding conditions with adverse implications for financial conditions for the private sector and public debt dynamics.”
Italy’s long-term debt is rated Baa2 by Moody’s Investors and BBB+ by Standard & Poor’s, according to data compiled by Bloomberg
Italian government bonds returned 20 percent last year, according to indexes compiled by Bloomberg and the European Federation of Financial Analysts Societies. That’s almost four times the 5.9 percent return on Spanish debt and dwarfs the 4.5 percent return on German bunds, the indexes show.
Italy, bearer of the euro’s second-biggest debt relative to gross domestic product, needs to sell more than 30 billion euros of bonds and bills a month.
The Feb. 24-25 vote produced a split parliament, and sent the country’s 10-year bond yield up 41 basis points the day after the election, the biggest increase in 14 months. Democratic Party leader Pier Luigi Bersani and his allies failed to win a majority in the Senate, leaving former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and comic-turned-politician Beppe Grillo with blocking minorities.
The political deadlock rattled markets as investors were betting on a government strong enough to tackle the country’s fourth recession since 2001, while maintaining fiscal rigor.
ECB President Mario Draghi said this week that the effect of Italy’s vote on financial markets was limited as Monti’s economic reforms will survive the political impasse. “After some excitement after the elections, markets have now reverted back more or less to where they were before,” Draghi told reporters in Frankfurt yesterday. “Much of the fiscal adjustment Italy went through will continue going on automatic pilot.”
The euro region’s third-biggest economy shrank 2.4 percent last year as the country’s budget deficit narrowed to match the European Union limit of 3 percent.
Italy will probably contract again this year and unemployment will continue rising to reach 12 percent next year, European Commission forecasts released on Feb. 2 showed.
Fitch said today it expects Italy’s GDP to fall 1.8 percent this year as public debt peaks at almost 130 percent, up from 127 percent in 2012.