Italy bonds firm after auction, defying political uncertainty

Tue Jul 30, 2013 6:26am EDT

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By Marius Zaharia

LONDON, July 30 (Reuters) - Italian government bonds firmed on Tuesday after a smooth debt auction that defied political uncertainty as a court met to rule on whether former premier Silvio Berlusconi should be jailed.

Italy's supreme court began considering Berlusconi's final appeal against a jail sentence and ban from public office for tax fraud - a verdict that could endanger the shaky coalition government.

However, a sale of 6.75 billion euros ($9 billion) of bonds met comfortable demand. Ten-year borrowing costs hit their lowest since May. Analysts largely attributed the auction's success to big peripheral debt repayments.

In secondary markets, 10-year Italian yields dropped 6 basis points on the day to 4.40 percent, compared with 4.42 percent before the auction.

"Italy is doing fairly well given the political turmoil," DZ Bank strategist Christian Lenk said. "The market is still ignoring the issue in a way because it's (in its) early stages."

Some 10 billion euros of Italian bills are due to be repaid on Wednesday, while 25 billion euros of bonds mature on Thursday. Italy and Spain pay a combined 16.6 billion euros in coupons this week, according to Reuters data.

With Tuesday's auction, Italy has completed around 80 percent of its 2013 funding target, Reuters calculations show. As some two thirds of its debt is owned by domestic investors, who tend to hold the bonds for longer, Italy is in a good position to weather any future political crises.

Ten-year Italian yields sit within this year's 3.7-5.1 percent range. Its upper bound was first tested when February's inconclusive elections left Italy without a government for two months before Prime Minister Enrico Letta's centre-left PD Party and Berlusconi's centre-right PDL agreed to share power.

Back then, Italy was riding a wave of global risk appetite, with central banks gushing liquidity. But sentiment could shift against high-yielding assets later this year if the Federal Reserve starts reducing monetary stimulus as planned.

"You could say that when Italy didn't have a government earlier this year there was little or no market impact so why should it be different now?" said Rabobank rate strategist Lyn Graham-Taylor.

"It is different because (Fed) tapering is just around the corner ... so people will care more this time around. It could have a bigger impact in terms of an increase in Italian yields."

The Fed, the European Central Bank and the Bank of England hold policy meetings this week. Graham-Taylor said investors would particularly look for clues to when the Fed would begin to reduce bond purchases.

Traders said euro zone government bonds, and especially benchmark German Bunds, were unlikely to move much before the meetings. Bund futures were 17 ticks lower at 142.29.

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