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Euro contagion fears hit Spain and Italy

By David Oakley,
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Spain economic protests roll on
  • The euro and the Spanish and Italian bond markets came under pressure on Monday
  • Show growing investor fears the problems of Greece are hitting the bigger EU economies
  • Euro (Currency)
  • European Markets
  • Spain
  • Italy

(FT) -- The euro and the Spanish and Italian bond markets came under pressure on Monday amid growing investor fears that the problems of Greece are hitting the bigger economies of Europe's single currency.

The euro fell to record lows against the Swiss franc and two-month lows against the dollar, while Spain's cost of borrowing for 10-year debt rose to highs last seen in September 2000. Italian 10-year bond yields also jumped.

Worries over contagion spread to Europe's equity markets, with stocks in Italy the biggest fallers down 3.3 per cent. Wall Street was affected too with the S&P 500 closing down 1.2 per cent.

John Wraith, fixed income strategist at BofA Merrill Lynch, said contagion was spreading to the bigger eurozone economies. "It is like a group of climbers roped together. As Greece slips, it pulls down other countries such as Spain and Italy."

Spanish bonds were hit by the poor performance of the ruling Socialists in regional elections. Miguel Angel Fernández Ordóñez, the governor of the Bank of Spain, said the country should not accept the high cost of financing sovereign debt and must press ahead with its economic reforms.

The extra cost Spain pays above Germany to borrow over 10 years has jumped to 2.48 percentage points.

Italian bonds came under early pressure as investors reacted to a warning late on Friday night from Standard & Poor's over the country's credit rating. S&P said it had cut the outlook on Italy's A-plus rating to negative because of worries over the economy.

Tensions eased on Italy, however, after Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right government said it was preparing a package of cuts and revenue raising measures for the next two years with the aim of balancing Italy's budget by 2014.

Delays to the Greek reform programme and fears the International Monetary Fund might refuse to provide the country with the next instalment of its bail-out loans has unsettled financial markets and increased worries Athens will default on its debts.

Fears of contagion have been the main cause of a 6 per cent fall in the euro against the dollar since the start of the month, while the extra cost Spain and Italy have to pay over Germany to borrow has jumped sharply since the middle of April.

A London-based fixed income trader said: "The idea of [Spanish] decoupling is dead. We are seeing quite a lot of selling of Spanish government bonds... It is feeling quite miserable in the market again."

However, other strategists said contagion was limited on Monday as both the Spanish and Italian bond markets, although down on the day, recovered after suffering sharp initial losses.

The biggest falls were in the Greek, Irish and Portuguese bond markets because of rising fears that all three countries would end up having to restructure their debt.

Greek bond yields also eased a touch after Athens announced plans to privatise a number of companies in an effort to tackle its debt problems.

Additional reporting by Victor Mallet and Miles Johnson in Madrid, Joshua Chaffin in Brussels, Kerin Hope in Athens, Guy Dinmore in Rome and Rachel Sanderson in Milan

© The Financial Times Limited 2011