Spain clears short-term debt test, bigger hurdle looms

Tue Jan 17, 2012 5:28am EST
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By John Stonestreet

MADRID (Reuters) - Spain took in its stride on Tuesday the first test of investor appetite for its debt since a two-notch ratings downgrade, selling 4.88 billion euros of treasury bills ahead of a far trickier hurdle later this week.

The Treasury had aimed to raise between 4 and 5 billion euros from the sale, a prelude to what has been dubbed a "litmus test" auction on Thursday of bonds with maturities of up to 10 years.

Yields on the 12- and 18-month paper were 2.049 percent and 2.399 percent respectively, slightly lower than expected and little more than half of what was paid to place the same maturities in December.

That sale took place before the European Central Bank fed demand for shorter-term euro zone debt with a flood of cheap three-year money.

"It's clear that the ECB's extraordinary liquidity measures have succeeded in easing the credit crunch that was spreading across Europe and opened an indirect funding channel for peripheral states," said Nicolas Lopez, senior analyst at M&G Valores.

Credit agency Standard & Poor's cut Spain's rating by two notches on Friday as part of a wave of downgrades of euro zone sovereign debt.

While the cut was priced in by markets, Spain's public finances remain under the market microscope and demand for its bonds that extend beyond the duration of the ECB money is uncertain.

"The biggest driver behind the fall in yields is the ECB liquidity actions. But the 10-year auction will provide a proper litmus test for Spanish debt," said David Schnautz, analyst at Commerzbank.   Continued...