Rome

Monti rebuts Berlusconi's claim spread is a 'con'

'Invention to bring down elected majority' says ex-premier

Monti rebuts Berlusconi's claim spread is a 'con'

Rome, December 11 - Premier Mario Monti was backed by the head of Italy's industrial employers' confederation on Tuesday in rebutting his predecessor Silvio Berlusconi's assertion that the bond spread was a "con" that does not matter. The yield spread between 10-year Italian bonds and the German benchmark is considered by experts to be a barometer of Italy's borrowing costs and of investor faith in the country's ability to weather the eurozone crisis. "The spread is a con, it's an invention with which an attempt was made to bring down the majority (in parliament) that was voted in by the Italian people and which governed the country," Berlusconi told one of his Mediaset TV channels. "No one had heard of it before. It's only been talked about for a year. What do we care about it?". Berlusconi was forced to resign in November 2011 when Italy's debt crisis looked in danger of spiralling out of control after the spread hit peaks of over 500 basis points with yields of over 7%, levels considered unsustainable in the long term. Italy is exposed to the eurozone crisis as it has a huge national debt of close to two trillion euros, over 126% of GDP. The government has to pay more to service this debt if investors perceive Italy as a risky option because they then demand higher interest rates to buy Italian bonds. The pressure on Italy's borrowing costs has eased since Monti's emergency technocrat administration replaced Berlusconi's government and passed austerity measures to put Italy's public finances in order. But the spread shot up by 28 points on Monday after Monti announced at the weekend that he would quit when the 2013 budget law is approved. The announcement came after Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PdL) party said it had stopped backing Monti's administration and the media magnate said he would run for a fourth term at the helm of government in upcoming elections. Monti said that rises in Italy's bond spread should not spark excessive anxiety, while stressing that they should not be written off as unimportant either. "The recent spread trends should be taken with a certain degree of calm and coolness," Monti told Rai television. "But we certainly should be very careful and sweep away some myths, such as the one that says it is not relevant. "Let's not treat the public as naive, because they are not". Giorgio Squinzi, the leader of powerful industrial confederation Confindustria, agreed with Monti "We are in the field of personal opinions," Squinzi said when asked about Berlusconi's comments. "The spread is important because it has a direct impact on the cost of our public debt". Pier Luigi Bersani, the leader of the Democratic Party and the centre-left's premier candidate for elections that now look set to take place in February, was critical of Berlusconi too. "If only it were a con," said Bersani when asked about Berlusconi's comments. Industry Minister Corrado Passera joined in too. "Is there anyone in the world who could think that the spread is not important? That interest rates are not important? That the credibility of the country is not important? To think otherwise is to misunderstand the concept," said Passera. "It is not the only (economic) indicator but it is an important one". Monti added on Tuesday that the spread has been talked about so much during his emergency technocrat government that his grandchild had been nicknamed "spread" at nursery school. "Evidently, grandparents' defects have effects on their grandchildren," he said.

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