S&P downgrades Italy debt outlook

Milan: Ratings agency S&P has downgraded its outlook for Italy’s sovereign debt but left its credit rating untouched, upping the pressure on Rome amid a stand-off with Brussels over its budget. Friday’s announcement, which warned Rome’s fiscal policy was jeopardising banks’ ability to fund the Italian economy, followed last week’s decision by Moody’s to cut Italy’s credit rating to a notch above junk status.
“The negative outlook reflects the risk that the government’s decision to further increase public borrowing — besides exacerbating Italy’s already weak budgetary position — will stifle the incipient recovery of the private sector,” S&P said.
The decision indicates the debt grade could be cut in the coming months.
The far-right League and anti-establishment Five Star Movement, ruling in coalition, have refused to curb their big-spending programme which forecasts a public deficit of 2.4 per cent of GDP in 2019.
The former centre-left government had pledged to keep next year’s deficit to 0.8 per cent of GDP in a bid to ease Italy’s vast public debt, which amounts to a phenomenal 2.3 trillion euros.
Brussels on Tuesday rejected the new plan outright, accusing Rome of “openly and consciously going against commitments made” and requesting a revision.
But the ratings decision was met with a renewed refusal to budge by League head Matteo Salvini and Five Star chief Luigi Di Maio.
“Are ratings agencies unaware of the global financial crisis?” Salvini said on Friday, while Di Maio said such organisations “do not measure the wellbeing of a country’s citizens.”
“We will continue! Change is underway,” added Di Maio.
The Moody’s downgrade, cutting Italy’s debt grade to Baa3 from Baa2 — while setting the outlook at “stable” — came as international financial watchdogs sounded the alarm over Italy’s economic choices.
“By proposing a budget heavy on debt-fuelled spending, the country started clashes both with the European Commission and with the market,” said Fidelity International analysts Andrea Iannelli and Alberto Chiandetti. “Neither has confidence in Italy’s projection that its economy will grow at a rate of 1.5 per cent or that its current debt path is politically and financially sustainable.”
S&P said it could change its outlook to stable if the recovery takes hold and the debt burden stabilises.
Since mid-May, when negotiations to form the coalition in Rome began, Milan’s stock exchange has lost more than 20 per cent. The FTSE MIB closed down another 0.7 per cent on Friday.
The closely watched “spread” — or difference between yields on 10-year Italian government debt compared to those in fiscally conservative Germany — has more than doubled, widening from 150 points to 309 points. — AFP