Who would you lend to – Italy or Peston?

  • 14 June 2012
  • From the section Business
  • comments
BBC Business Editor Robert Peston
Would you lend money to this man?

Who would you expect to pay a higher rate of interest when borrowing for three years?

Me or the Italian Republic?

If you said "Peston", you are right. The markets apparently regard me as a worse credit risk than the government of the world's eighth largest economy - largely because individuals have a sorrier history in general of repaying what they owe than the public sectors of first-rank developed economies.

But here's the thing: the risk premium for lending to the slightly shambolic household of Peston, as opposed to the sovereign nation of Italy, is rather less than I expected.

According to those online money comparison websites, I can borrow £10,000 for 5.9% - with very few questions asked of me.

As for Italy, today it borrowed 3 billion euros for three years today at an interest rate 5.3%, in one of its regular bond auctions.

The gap between the interest paid by the two of us, 0.6% or 60 basis points (in the jargon), seems to put us in a similar borrowing category.

And before you ask, £10,000 is a bigger proportion of my annual earnings, than is 3 bilion euros as a proportion of Italian output or GDP.

So why is the Italian government's credit-worthiness perceived to be only marginally better than mine.

Well Italy starts with rather more debt than me - around 2 trillion euros or 120% of its GDP or income. My debt is a much smaller proportion of my income.

And Italian GDP is shrinking, as is mine - in real or inflation adjusted terms - but maybe not as fast.

Also in the coming year Italy has to borrow 450 billion euros in total to refinance maturing debt and its new borrowing needs. I have no debts that mature this year that need to be rolled over or refinanced.

What's more, Italy may have to fork out a few tens of billions of euros to recapitalise its banks - which is less than Spain's banking bill but rather more than the banking liability I face.

There's another thing: if demand for my output falls, I can always cut what I charge for my services; but if Italy's exports are perceived to be too expensive, it cannot cut their price because it has no independent currency to devalue.

All in all, and now that I think about it, I wonder whether I should be offended that it costs me more than the Italian Republic to borrow.