Italy forced to pay record interest rates at auction

Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti
Image caption Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti is meeting eurozone officials on Friday

Italy has been forced to pay record interest rates in a 10bn euro ($13bn; £9bn) auction of treasury bills.

The rate of interest for the new debts due to be repaid in six months was 6.504%, compared with 3.535% in the last comparable sale on 26 October.

The rate for two-year borrowing was 7.814%, up from 4.628% last time.

The Bank of Italy stressed that demand for the bonds had been high, with demand for the debts outstripping supply by 50%.

But the European Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn dismissed the idea that the eurozone crisis could lead to a break up of the single currency.

"It is clear that the leaders of the euro area have underlined very firmly that they will do whatever it takes to ensure that the future of the euro is solid and stable," he said.

"Italy is a founding member state of the European Union and a founding member of the euro and a central part of the euro and it will remain so in the future."

The FTSE MIB in Milan dropped 1% following the auction, to take it down 1.9% on the day. However, at Friday's close, the FTSE ended up 0.7%, the French CAC-40 up 1.2% and Germany's Dax up 1.1%.

The Italian government's implied cost of borrowing, based on the price at which its debts are traded on financial markets, has risen steadily over the last few weeks to levels seen as unsustainable in the long-term.

However, it is only when the government raises new money at debt auctions, such as those held on Friday, that it is forced to actually pay the higher rates on its debts.

Italy plans to sell another 8bn euros at an auction on Tuesday.

'Slow disintegration'

Having met Germany's Angela Merkel and France's Nicolas Sarkozy on Thursday, Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti will be meeting EU Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn on Friday.

Mr Monti told his French and German counterparts that he aims to balance the budget in 2013.

Crisis jargon buster
Use the dropdown for easy-to-understand explanations of key financial terms:
The best credit rating that can be given to a borrower's debts, indicating that the risk of borrowing defaulting is minuscule.

Mr Rehn is expected to seek further reforms to stabilise Italy's public finances and put the economy back on track, with the European Commission believing that more austerity measures will be needed if the budget is to be balanced.

The economic affairs commissioner has made some stark predictions about the importance of the coming weeks.

"Ahead lies either the slow disintegration of the euro area or a significant strengthening of the monetary union," Mr Rehn told journalists on Thursday.

He told Italian legislators on Friday that it was important to convince Germany of the need to issue eurobonds - common eurozone debts backed by all 17 member states.

"If I put it nicely, I would say there is a variety of views and there is quite some opposition as regards eurobonds," he said.

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