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Will Berlusconi Finally Be Forced Out Over Debt?

He has survived criminal charges, electoral defeat and, if you believe all the stories, more bunga bunga parties than you could shake a stick at, to become the longest-serving Prime Minister in the G8, but could the latest debt crisis be the final nail in the coffin for Italian billionaire Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's political career?

Silvio Berlusconi
Tiziana Fabi | AFP | Getty Images
Silvio Berlusconi

The controversial figure is blamed by many, including Marc Ostwald, strategist at Monument Securities, for starting the current market jitters by speaking disparagingly about his well-regarded finance minister Giulio Tremonti.

"This is a problem engendered by their reprobate Prime Minister," Ostwald told CNBC Wednesday.

"He started it by threatening Tremonti and he has to go."

Others think that removing Berlusconi could make matters worse.

"If he steps down, that could exacerbate the loss of confidence that we have seen," Silvio Peruzzo, European economist at Royal Bank of Scotland, told CNBC Wednesday.

"This is now a crisis of the euro, and we have to see some very strong and convincing measures at the European level."

Later on Tuesday, at 1730 CET, Berlusconi speaks to the Italian parliament about the crisis. Tremonti will meet Jean-Claude Juncker, chairman of the Euro Group, in Luxembourg.

Worries about debt crises elsewhere in the euro zone have led to fears that the European Central Bank may be forced to help Italy, one of the region's biggest economies.

The ECB has already bought around 75 billion euros ($106.5 billion) worth of bonds from Greece and Ireland in an effort to help solve the debt crisis in both countries.

Yields on Italian bonds hit a euro lifetime high on Tuesday and its stock market index closed at its lowest level in 27 months as investors' attention turned to the country following the eventual passing of a bill to raise the US debt ceiling, which had been the main focus of markets earlier in the week.

Ostwald thinks the ECB will back away from intervention in Italian debt because the Italian economy is much larger than other troubled euro zone economies such as Spain and Portugal.

Peter Westaway, chief economist, Europe at Nomura, thinks the ECB will have to end up helping out.

"The last thing they want to do is get involved, but I think that now that the government has announced a package of measures the ECB would act as a bridge," he told CNBC Wednesday.

"We need a more credible framework from the Italian policymakers themselves."

Peruzzo thinks that the European Financial Stability Facility will eventually have to be extended to become as big as 2 trillion euro to deal with the problems in the region.

Ostwald believes the crunch time for Italian bonds is imminent.

"If refinancing rates are going through the roof then there becomes this negative feedback," he said.

"At some point between 6.5 and 7 you would have to say how sustainable is this bond over a week or two?"

Tuesday's selloff took yields to 6.1 percent.

There are particular concerns about Italian banks, which absorb a lot of Italian debt as Italians tend to invest domestically.

"It really depends on how much the fear grips financial markets," said Ostwald.

"Proper fund managers, as opposed to speculative money, have been very reluctant to get involved in negative real yields for a very long time."

There are also doubts about how quickly the new austerity package passed by the Italian government last month can be enforced.

"This is a very profound cultural issue," Pippa Malmgren, founder, Principalis Asset Management, told CNBC Wednesday.

"The idea that you can impose an Anglo-Saxon or Germanic tax collection system on Greece or Italy…it's going to take a generation for people in these economies to get their head around it."

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