Welcome to the Currency War, Part 12: Bankrupt Rome and Soaring Euro-Bonds
Only in a world totally corrupted by easy money could the following two things be announced on the same day. First:
The bond-market rally is broad based, encompassing both core economies such asFrance and also peripheral markets including Greece, which was pushed to the brink of exiting the currency bloc during the region's financial woes. Another of those nations, Portugal, took a step toward exiting an international bailout program today as it bought back bonds, while Italy, supported in the turmoil by ECB bond purchases, sold five-year notes at a record-low rate.
"Investors are starting to look at the non-core European bond markets as a viable investment alternative again," said Jussi Hiljanen, head of fixed-income research at SEB AB inStockholm. "Further ECB actions have the potential to maintain the tightening bias on those spreads," he said, referring to the yield gap between core nations and the periphery.
The average yield to maturity on euro-area bonds fell to a record 1.6343 percent yesterday, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch indexes. It peaked at more than 6 percent in 2011, the data show.
Italy's 10-year yield fell seven basis points to 3.47 percent after touching 3.46 percent, a level not seen since January 2006. Portugal's 10-year yield dropped four basis points to 4.81 percent and touched 4.78 percent, the least since June 2010, while Ireland's two-year note yield and Spain's five-year rates dropped to records.
Then, at about the same time:
Matteo Renzi, the Italian prime minister, came under pressure on Thursday as the city of Rome was on the brink of bankruptcy after parliament threw out a bill that would have injected fresh funding.
Ignazio Marino, Rome mayor, said city services like public transport would come to a halt and that he would not be a "Nero" - the Roman emperor who, legend has it, strummed his lyre as the city burnt to the ground.
Marino said that Renzi, a centre-left leader and former mayor of Florence who was only confirmed by parliament this week, had promised to adopt urgent measures to help the Italian capital at a cabinet meeting on Friday.
The newly-elected mayor faces a budget deficit of 816 million euros ($1.1 billion) and the city could be placed under administration if he does not manage to close the gap with measures such as cutting public services.
"Rome has wasted money for decades. I don't want to spend another euro that is not budgeted," Marino said, following criticism from the Northern League opposition party which helped shoot down the bill for Rome in parliament.
The draft law would have included funding for Rome from the central government budget as a compensation for the extra costs it faces because of its role as the capital including tourism traffic and national demonstrations.
Other cash-strapped cities complained it was unfair. But Marino warned there could be dire consequences. "We're not going to block the city but the city will come to a standstill. It will block itself if I do not have the tools for making budget decisions and right now I cannot allocate any money," he told the SkyTG24 news channel.
Marino said that buses may have to stop running as soon as Sunday because he only had 10 percent of the money required to pay for fuel in March.
He added: "With the money that we have in the budget right now, I can do repairs on each road in Rome every 52 years. That's not really maintenance."
How is it that Italy is able to borrow money at low and falling rates - which indicates that borrowers are confident of its ability to pay its bills - while its major city, far more important to that country than New York or Los Angeles is to the US, slides into bankruptcy?
The answer is that Rome is irrelevant in comparison with two other facts. First, Europe is slipping into deflation, which generally leads to lower bond yields. Second, the European Central Bank is virtually guaranteed to respond to fact number one with quantitative easing on a vast scale.
So the bond markets, far from rallying on the expectation of a eurozone recovery, are rising in anticipation of the opposite: a new round of recession/deflation/instability that forces the abandonment of even the pretense of austerity and the adoption of aggressively easy money.
In this scenario, a Roman bankruptcy is actually a good thing because it pushes the ECB, Bundesbank, Bank of Italy and the other relevant monetary entities to stop dithering and start monetizing debt in earnest. Once it gets going, the goal of the program will be to refinance everyone's debt at extremely low rates, push down the euro's exchange rate versus the dollar, yen and yuan, and shift the currency war front from Europe to the rest of the world. The race to the bottom continues.
The rest of this series is available here.