Italian, Spanish debt premia fall to lowest since mid-2011
* PMI data shrinks Italian, Spanish spreads
* Bund yields hit highest since September 2013
* T-note/Bund yield spread may widen further-analyst
By Marius Zaharia and Ana Nicolaci da Costa
LONDON, Jan 2 (Reuters) - The premiums Italian and Spanish bonds offer over benchmark German Bunds fell to their lowest since mid-2011 on Thursday after manufacturing surveys beat expectations in both southern euro zone countries.
While overall euro zone Purchasing Managers Index surveys came in line with forecasts in Reuters polls showing manufacturing grew at its fastest rate in 2-1/2 years, data on Italy and Spain surprised on the upside.
"PMIs in Italy and Spain were better than expected and we see people switching out of core bonds into peripheral bonds," said Rabobank market economist Emile Cardon.
"Investors are asking themselves: why should I invest in Germany when I get double the yield in Italy or Spain?"
Low volumes after the Christmas and new year holidays exacerbated price moves.
The numbers helped drive the yield premium for Spanish 10-year bonds over Bunds 18 basis points lower to 205 bps. The Italian/German yield spread shrank 12 bps to 204 bps.
By contrast, top-rated bonds started 2014 in a cautious mood after ending last year rattled by an improving economic outlook and by the U.S. Federal Reserve decision to start trimming its bond-buying stimulus programme this year.
"There is a feeling that new money will continue to support risk and high-yield assets and that's borne out a little bit from some of the early flows at the start of the year," one trader said.
German 10-year Bund yields were 1.5 basis points higher at 1.94 percent, having earlier hit their highest since September at 1.969 percent. Bund futures fell 5 ticks to a settlement close of 139.12.
Volumes remained low, with about 273,000 lots having traded in the Bund futures market this session, compared with a 2013 daily average of about 680,000 lots.
Still, stubbornly low inflation in the euro zone and other major economies as well as promises by the Fed and the European Central Bank to keep interest rates low for a long period are expected to cap German and U.S. yields.
Some analysts expect the ECB to ease monetary policy further, especially if falling excess liquidity levels in the banking system keep money market rates elevated.
Eonia, the overnight euro zone bank-to-bank lending rate, ended 2013 at a two-year high of 0.446 percent due to seasonally thin liquidity. Analysts expected it to fall in coming days, but the extent of the drop could spark some speculation about further ECB monetary policy easing.
DZ Bank strategist Christian Lenk does not expect the ECB to make any move in the near term, but says the central bank will continue to strike a soft tone, leading to a widening of the yield gap between Bunds and U.S. Treasuries.
"We can expect a further widening of the transatlantic spread. The Fed will be less dovish as it starts tapering and the ECB most likely will remain pretty friendly," he said.
The Bund/T-note yield spread last traded at 105 bps.