Italy, Spain yields rise as duo meet 40 pct of 2014 funding plan

Thu Apr 24, 2014 11:42am EDT

* Spain, Italy hit roughly 40 pct of annual funding target

* Supply pressures lift Spanish, Italian yields off recent lows

* Fitch to revise Spain, Italy ratings on Friday (Updates prices, adds fresh comments)

By Marius Zaharia and Emelia Sithole-Matarise

LONDON, April 24 (Reuters) - Spanish and Italian bond yields edged up from their lowest levels in more than eight years on Thursday as chunky debt sales helped the two countries meet about 40 percent of their funding targets for this year.

Rising yields are common on days when debt sales are scheduled as investors make room in their books for the new paper, but analysts said the smooth completion of the auctions suggested the pullback was unlikely to be sustained.

The high returns offered by their recovering economies and prospects of further European Central Bank monetary policy easing are prompting investors to buy more Spanish and Italian debt.

The fact that the two countries, once at the forefront of the euro zone debt crisis, are so advanced in their funding progress makes this year's rally in their bond markets even more impressive, some analysts said.

"These countries have excellent access to primary markets. It's certainly an extra argument to hold on to your long positions," said Christoph Kind, head of asset allocation at Frankfurt Trust, referring to bets that bond prices in Spain and Italy would rise further and implicitly that yields would fall.

The possibility that the ECB may eventually print money to fight low inflation has been a key driver of the rally in Spain and Italy and is expected to continue to offer support.

ECB President Mario Draghi said in Amsterdam on Thursday that a worsening of the inflation outlook would prompt the central bank to launch broad-based asset purchases, which economists call quantitative easing.

Fellow Governing Council member Luc Coene was also quoted as saying a lower-than-expected April reading of euro zone inflation, due next Wednesday, could trigger policy action.

Spanish 10-year yields rose 4 basis points to 3.09 percent, while Italian 10-year yields added a similar amount to 3.13 percent. Both remained within touching distance of recent lows, having fallen roughly one percentage point since the end of last year.

"We certainly see some supply pressure ... (but) overall investors are still craving for yield pick-up as you have ongoing speculation about QE," said Christian Lenk, a strategist at DZ Bank.

AHEAD OF TARGET

Spain sold 5.6 billion euros in three-, five- and 10-year debt, slightly above the top range of its target, paying record-low borrowing costs.

Following the sale, the Spanish Treasury has reached more than 43 percent of its gross 133 billion euro bond issuance target for this year versus 40 percent in January-April last year. That compares with 38 percent in 2012, 36 percent in 2011 and 32 percent in 2010.

On Wednesday, Spain said higher-than-predicted tax receipts and falling financing costs will allow the government to cut net debt issuance for this year from an estimated 65 billion euros.

Neighbour Italy sold 5 billion euros of zero-coupon and inflation-linked bonds, taking its year-to-date fundraising to nearly 39 percent of its 2014 goal. Rome has another auction scheduled in April at which it plans to sell up to 9 billion euros in bonds.

"Recent auctions have been very successful and good progress has been made on the funding front so far. The strong rally we have seen is not only due to domestics but also non-domestic buyers becoming quite comfortable holding this type of risk," said Matteo Regesta, a strategist at Citi.

In what could further boost sentiment towards the euro zone's lower-rated debt markets, Fitch is due to reassess its BBB rating of Spain and BBB+ rating of Italy on Friday.

Analysts expect the negative outlook on Italy's rating to be changed to stable and do not rule out rating upgrades on the back of the two countries' improved access to funding. (Editing by Catherine Evans)

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