Analysis: Italy - a buy for the brave

Thu Jan 26, 2012 9:08am EST
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By Lisa Jucca

DAVOS (Reuters) - Italy could turn out to be the investment bet of the decade if European Union leaders manage to contain the euro zone crisis.

But buying Italian debt at this time is only for the brave - and those who believe the worst of the danger for the euro zone's third biggest economy has passed, according to interviews with more than a dozen investors and bankers.

George Soros called returns above 6 percent on 10-year Italian debt a "dangerous" but "attractive" speculation.

"That's a fantastic yield, which is not going to stay up there the moment things settle down," said Soros, once the world's best-known hedge fund manager. "At 6 or 7 percent, Italian bonds are a speculation. At 5 percent or 4 percent I think they would be a very, very good long-term investment."

Ten-year Italian bonds have been one of world's best performing assets since the start of 2012, beating a 6.4 percent annual return offered by traditional safe-havens such as gold.

The prospect that new prime minister Mario Monti, an internationally respected economist, will put Italy's house in order after decades of lax fiscal policy is lifting some of the gloom. But with uncertainty still hanging over the future of the euro zone, the difference in returns offered by 10-year Italian bonds compared with equivalent German bonds, currently just above 4 percent, would have to fall by at least 1 percentage point to attract substantial inflows.

In order to engage in this type of bet, one has to be convinced that the euro zone will survive a looming Greek debt restructuring and projections of prolonged slow growth.

Several non-European investors interviewed by Reuters were uninterested in buying the bonds of Italy, Spain and other weak European states because they were not convinced politicians will achieve a lasting solution to Europe's woes. But there is a play to be made if one has faith in Europe's leaders.   Continued...

<p>An Italian flag waves in front of the Montecitorio palace before the start of a finances vote in downtown Rome November 8, 2011. REUTERS/Tony Gentile</p>