UPDATE 1-Italy minister to visit China to seek investment

Wed Apr 25, 2012 11:07am EDT

Related Topics

* Grilli likely to meet with China Investment Corporation

* Visit comes after fresh euro zone concerns

* Italian bond yields have risen to over 5.6 percent

By Giuseppe Fonte

ROME, April 25 (Reuters) - Italy's Deputy Economy Minister Vittorio Grilli will visit Beijing on Thursday, seeking to persuade Chinese investors to buy Italian sovereign bonds which have come under pressure amid turmoil on euro zone debt markets, sources said on Wednesday.

The visit by one of Italy's most senior finance officials is likely to include talks with representatives from the powerful China Investment Corporation and follows a fresh outbreak of concerns about Italian government bond yields, which have climbed sharply in recent weeks amid concerns about the robustness of weaker euro zone member states.

"Grilli will meet representatives of China's financial community tomorrow to seek investments in Italy, including government bonds," a person with direct knowledge of the visit told Reuters.

Italian officials have visited Asian capitals including Beijing a number of times since the outbreak of the eurozone debt crisis and Prime Minister Mario Monti made a similar appeal for investment during a visit only last month.

Monti, appointed to succeed the scandal-prone Silvio Berlusconi last year as soaring borrowing costs threatened to tip Italy into a Greek-style debt crisis, has presided over a deterioration in the country's financial situation after a brief honeymoon period at the start of the year.

As market confidence provided by the European Central Bank's injection of cheap liquidity has faded and worries have grown over the health of Spain and other southern economies, Italy has been drawn back into stormy waters.

Public discontent at austerity measures that have put up taxes while squeezing wages and pensions has hit Monti's approval ratings as he tries to retain the faith of investors and pass reforms to lift the chronically stagnant economy.

Ten year Italian bond yields have risen to more than 5.6 percent, while the risk premium demanded to hold Italian bonds rather than benchmark German Bunds has climbed back over 400 basis points.

That is still some way off the peak spread levels of more than 550 basis points reached in November last year, but enough to raise alarm about the sustainability of Italy's 1.9-trillion-euro public debt pile.

The government last week cut its economic forecasts to reflect a 1.2 percent contraction in gross domestic product this year, worse than a previously forecast 0.4 percent contraction, setting back prospects of a quick reduction in the debt burden.

It also delayed its main deficit target by one year, and now expects to reach a balanced budget by 2014 instead of 2013 as previously forecast.

Italy's debt burden is expected to amount to 123.4 percent of gross domestic product this year, second only to Greece in the euro zone.

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