Berlusconi’s victory could be solution to Italy’s massive debt

ROME — An election victory by Italy’s controversial billionaire media mogul and former premier Silvio Berlusconi might be the shortest route to Italy paying down its massive debt, according to a recent counterintuitive research from a leading investment bank.

ROME — An election victory by Italy’s controversial billionaire media mogul and former premier Silvio Berlusconi might be the shortest route to Italy paying down its massive debt, according to a recent counterintuitive research from a leading investment bank.

Currently, most economic analysts predict bad news if Berlusconi prevails in Italy’s Feb. 24-25 elections. Berlusconi stepped down as prime minister 15 months ago amid fears Italy would soon fall victim to the European debt crisis. Technocrat Mario Monti replaced him, raising taxes, slashing government spending, and helping restore investor confidence in the country. Monti’s austerity reforms have been painful for many Italians -- and Berlusconi has vowed to reverse many of them, including a promise to refund 2012 property taxes at the expense of more than 4 billion euros.

The promises are resonating with many Italians, giving the three-time prime minister what is generally seen as an outside chance to emerge victorious from the upcoming vote. But economists say they would risk returning Italy to the economic problems weighing it down in 2011, when borrowing costs were sky high, investor confidence almost nil, and Italy putting the health of the entire euro-zone at risk. “I don’t think anyone wants to return to the kinds of problems we saw a year and a half ago,” said Pietro Reichlin, an economist with Italy’s LUISS University.

Well, at least an economist thinks it could be a good thing, though only because it would lead to extra help in Italy’s battle to confront it’s debt issues, the second highest in the European Union in per capita terms (behind only Greece). Antonio Guglielmi, an analyst with Mediobanca Securities, said a Berlusconi victory could, against all odds, yield good things for the country. “Paradoxically, the worst case scenario could be the best case,” wrote Guglielmi, adding that a Berlusconi win could “scare the market” and force a massive bailout that could help Italy resolve its debt problems faster than it could do so on its own.

Yields on Italy’s benchmark 10-year bonds -- a measure of investor confidence in the country -- that surpassed the unsustainable 7-percent threshold under Berlusconi but have since fallen to a healthy range of 4.2 percent to 4.5 percent under Monti, would likely surge high again with a Berlusconi victory. But that might be a good thing, Guglielmi argues, saying that scenario would present a “perfect excuse” for the European Central Bank to step in to bail out the euro zone’s third largest economy.  Guglielmi said a victory by comedian and activist Beppe Grillo would likely have a similar effect.

Agencies

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