Italy, Spain debt costs fall as ECB cash outweighs downgrades

Tue Feb 14, 2012 7:52am EST
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By Valentina Za

MILAN (Reuters) - Italy's three-year borrowing costs hit their lowest since March at an auction on Tuesday, with an overnight sovereign rating cut having little impact as cheap ECB loans continued to support demand and ease its path towards an ambitious refinancing goal.

Spain, also caught by Moody's downgrade of six euro zone states, and Belgium each saw their cost of funds fall further at bill sales on Tuesday, while even Greece - seen at risk of a chaotic default next month - managed to place three-month paper.

Madrid sold more than 5 billion euros of bills at an auction that was more than twice subscribed despite Moody's two-notch downgrade on Monday, while one-year Belgian bill yields dipped below 1 percent at its sale, their lowest since September 2010.

Rome sold the maximum planned amount of 6 billion euros of bonds, a reassuring sign after a one-year debt auction on Monday was barely covered - possibly, the Bank of Italy said, due to a technical glitch. Tuesday's bond sale had a bid-to-cover ratio of 1.4 times, up from 1.2 a month ago when the amount sold was smaller.

The sale brings Italian bond issuance settled this year to 35.4 billion euros, meaning the country has already refinanced more than a third of the 90 billion euros of maturing bonds it must repay or roll over between February and the end of April.

"It was a good set of results. Good bid/covers, reduced yields compared to when these bonds or bonds of similar tenor were last auctioned," said Lyn Graham-Taylor, a strategist with Rabobank in London.

"The positive effects driven by the three-year LTRO (long-term refinancing operation) in December and the one to come are continuing."

Yields on short-dated Italian and Spanish government bonds have fallen sharply since the European Central Bank flooded markets with nearly half a trillion euros of three-year cash in late December. A second tender later this month is further fuelling demand for such debt, which banks can use as collateral for the ECB's ultra-cheap loans.   Continued...