Last updated: 20:58 / Wednesday, 29 August 2018
Asset managers speak out

Are we Heading Towards a Political Crisis in the Eurozone with Italy?

Are we Heading Towards a Political Crisis in the Eurozone with Italy?

The risk of a new sovereign crisis in the Eurozone seems to have come to a halt after the uncertainty caused by the Italian elections and the subsequent formation of a populist government. At the end of the second quarter, Italy became the center of attention and the fear of contagion resurfaced again. Will Italy - and the rest of the peripheral markets - endure the political noise? Noise such as that caused by the Italian Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the 5 Star Movement, Luigi Di Maio, when he affirmed that the government would not ratify the free-trade agreement between the EU and Canada (CETA). These types of statements generate uncertainty in the market and concern for international investors, as what happened with Greece during the economic crisis still remains fresh in their memory.

This is where asset management companies reassure and argue that we are not facing the same case. "As simple as the idea that we are facing a Greece II may be, there are several factors that override this perspective. On the one hand, the Italian economy is much larger: it represents approximately 15% of the economic activity registered in the Eurozone, compared to 1.6% for Greece, and traditionally, its economy and banking system are considered much more integrated with the rest of the Eurozone. Italy is also the third largest debtor in the world (130% of its GDP), after the United States and Japan. In addition, according to the figures handled by Deutsche Bank, only 40% of this debt has domestic creditors: foreign investors (around 35%) and the Euro system (approximately 18%) account for the majority," Robeco sources explain.

Likewise, they consider that the contagion to other countries, especially the peripheral ones such as Spain or Portugal, is low. According to Oliver Marcoit and Guilhem Savry, Managers of Multiactive Strategies at Unigestion, contagion is very limited given the consolidation that exists in the Eurozone since the European debt crisis.

Spain has its own problems, however, and the vote of no confidence that took place in June revived market tensions, since the markets are taking into account the risk that populist parties will gain access to executive functions. The combination of political risk in both Italy and Spain would weigh on European assets as a whole, with the spreads of the peripheral government and the Euro at the forefront," warn Marcoit and Savry.

Italian Risks

That the risk of contagion is low, or that Italy’s context is totally different from what Greece was, does not exempt it from having a long list of tasks ahead to avoid weakening the European project. According to Philipp Vorndran, Market Strategist at Flossbach von Storch, Italy is at a moment of transition and exposes its public coffers to a new challenge, which will only be viable if interest rates are maintained at the current level.

In fact, the "Government for change" proposed by Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte is a challenge for the public coffers and may lead to a greater imbalance than expected. According to a study by Flossbach von Storch’s Research Institute, the net negative fiscal impact of the proposed measures could reach 100 billion Euros per year. Amongst the proposed measures are the reduction of fuel taxes, the repeal of the recent pension reform, and the creation of an income for citizens living below the poverty line. Minister Conte's plan, however, does not clarify how he plans to finance these and other measures. On the one hand, VAT remains unchanged. On the other hand, the reduction of expenses, such as the abolition of "golden pensions", limitations on international missions, and the elimination of the life pension for members of parliament, does not release enough capital to finance the measures provided for in the coalition agreement. According to this study, the financial hole in public coffers could reach 120 billion Euros.

According to Vorndran, it also seems unlikely that these measures will significantly boost economic growth and improve the trade balance. "Half of the proposed measures would have a negative impact, going from the current 132% today to 141% of the GDP until the end of the mandate. As long as Italy's economy maintains the growth rate of the last five years and the ECB extends its favorable monetary policy for the refinancing of costs," he says.