Italian, Spanish debt premia fall to lowest since mid-2011

Thu Jan 2, 2014 7:05am EST

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By Marius Zaharia

LONDON, Jan 2 (Reuters) - The premium Italian and Spanish bonds offer over benchmark German Bunds fell to its 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.

The numbers helped drive the yield premium for Spanish 10-year bonds over Bunds 16 basis points lower to 205 bps. The Italian/German yield spread shrank 14 bps to 203 bps.

"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?"

Top-rated bonds started 2014 in the same downbeat mood, having had a dismal end to last year as the economic outlook improved and the U.S. Federal Reserve announced it would start trimming its bond-buying stimulus programme in 2014.

German 10-year Bund yields were last 3 basis points up on the day at 1.96 percent, having earlier hit their highest since September at 1.969 percent. Bund futures fell 23 ticks to 138.94.

"Bunds are under pressure ... on the back of still strong risk sentiment," Commerzbank strategist Michael Leister said.

"But we think at current levels around 2 percent the potential for a further rise is rather limited."

Volumes remained low, with about 110,000 lots having traded in the Bund futures market mid-way through the session, compared with a 2013 daily average of about 680,000 lots.

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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 keeps 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 fall 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 107 bps.

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