* Investors take profits before European elections
* Irish bonds reverse gains after Moody's upgrade
* Portugal exits bailout but reform risks remain
* Greek sell-off halts but politics fragile
(Updates prices, adds fresh quote)
By John Geddie
LONDON, May 19 Yields on the euro zone's
higher-risk bonds rose on Monday, as investors took profits on
recent price gains before potentially destabilising European
Italian and Spanish yields
reversed an initial dip, rising 10 basis points or more to highs
for the day of 3.06 percent and 3.20 percent, respectively.
Traders said investors were concerned that votes for
anti-austerity, euro-sceptic parties would thwart reform
"People seem keen to book profits and this has been
associated with political risk running into EU elections," said
ICAP strategist Philip Tyson.
Investors are closely watching Greece, where votes for
opposition parties may weaken the already fragile ruling
coalition and potentially pave the way for national elections.
Syriza, an anti-bailout, leftist party, performed strongly
in the first round of local elections on Sunday, an indication
that they could fare well on the European stage.
In Italy, a showdown between Italian Prime Minister Matteo
Renzi and the anti-establishment movement of comic Beppe Grillo
could decide the future of the government.
Pre-election jitters have been slow to materialise, with
expectations of European Central Bank intervention underpinning
a rally in peripheral debt over the last months.
"Everyone has gotten very, very long since the start of May
with a lot of peripheral supply and expectations that the
European Central Bank will give some fresh stimulus in June,"
said Owen Callan, a senior analyst at Danske Bank.
The uncertain political landscape, coupled with weak EU
economic data last week, has led to profit-taking among more
speculative buyers like hedge funds, said Callan.
Interest from real money and domestic investors, however, is
likely to stem a more pronounced yield rise, with the ECB
expected to introduce cuts in all its interest rates and
targeted measures aimed at boosting lending to small- and
mid-sized firms (SMEs) at its next meeting.
A programme of asset purchases, known as quantitative
easing, is also on the cards, although some think it may not
succeed in keep borrowing costs down.
Even Irish bonds, which were upgraded two notches by Moody's
late Friday, were unable to perform. A dip in 10-year yields
at the open was quickly erased, with yields
climbing 3 bps on the day at 2.72 percent.
Moody's upgraded Ireland's credit rating from Baa3 to Baa1,
bringing its view into line with the other two main ratings
Confirmation of Portugal's exit from its 78 billion euro
($107 billion) bailout also failed to win over risk-averse
Lisbon took back control of its public finances from the
European Commission, European Central Bank and International
Monetary Fund at the weekend, with its budget in much better
shape and borrowing costs at eight-year lows.
Portugal has chosen not to apply for a precautionary credit
line, a move that will focus investor attention on a mixed
economic outlook with unemployment standing at 15 percent and
GDP shrank 0.7 percent in the first quarter of 2014.
Some market participants are worried the government's plans
to partly reverse salary cuts in the public sector and possibly
cut taxes next year could undermine efforts so far.
"The fact they don't have Troika lenders closely telling
them what to do does not mean that they should delay the reform
efforts achieved so far or move in a different direction," said
Alessandro Giansanti, senior rates strategist at ING.
Portuguese 10-year yields rose 8 bps on Monday
to hit 3.86 percent. Greek equivalents remained just shy of
two-month highs, with the government's plans to scrap a legacy
capital gains tax on foreign bondholders failing
to soothe investors' election nerves.
(Additional reporting by Marius Zaharia; Editing by Nigel