Italy leads euro zone bond selloff on ECB unease, politics

Spain, Portugal yields at highest


LONDON- Italian borrowing costs rose on Monday to the highest in over eight months, leading a selloff across the euro zone on concerns over Italy's reform path and the possibility that the ECB might slow the pace of its bond-buying stimulus in coming months.

Investors are increasingly pricing the possibility that economic recovery, fuelled by rapid COVID-19 vaccine rollouts could encourage the European Central Bank to slow the pace of its emergency PEPP bond purchases.

Italy, a big beneficiary of ECB asset purchases, bore the brunt of selling. Its 10-year yields rose 6 bps to 1.14%. That was on top of a 16 bps increase last week, while the gap over German peers widened to 123.65 bps, the widest since late-2020.

Selling was exacerbated by weekend comments from Matteo Salvini, leader of Italy's right-wing League party, that Prime Minister Mario Draghi will be unable to enact key reforms demanded by the European Union because his unity government is too divided. 

The selloff spread across the bloc, with France's 10-year bond yield above 0.3% for the first time since March 2020. German yields rose 2 bps to -0.11%, heading towards the near two-year peaks hit last week.

"The euro zone government bond market is generally in bad shape, especially for longer-dated pick-up paper, with France and SSAs (Sovereign Supranational Agency bonds) suffering as well, and Bunds," said Commerzbank rates strategist Christoph Rieger.

Pick-up refers to spread available on riskier debt compared to regional benchmark Germany.

"Talk of less ECB buying certainly fits the picture. And perhaps the Salvini headlines over the weekend also added to the widening today as investors are getting nervous about what happens after 2023 if fiscal front-loading is not paying higher growth dividends in coming years."

Saxo Bank strategist Althea Spinozzi said news Hungary's central bank could soon consider lifting interest rates may have fed unease too. 

"Peripheral bond yields are so low, they would be the first to re-price if there's concern about ECB tapering or rate hikes," Spinozzi said.

Portuguese and Spanish 10-year yields rose to their highest in almost a year, up around 4 bps each.

So far, higher bond yields has not caused alarm, possibly as markets and ECB officials see the stronger economic backdrop as justifying a re-pricing.

Views differ within the ECB board on the future pace of emergency bond purchases, Pictet Wealth Management strategist Frederik Ducrozet noted, adding the ECB "would find it difficult to materially reduce the pace of PEPP purchases at the June meeting".

(Reporting by Dhara Ranasinghe; Additional reporting by Sujata Rao; Editing by Kirsten Donovan, Himani Sarkar and Alison Williams) ((; +442075422684;))

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