POLICY BRIEF 12-5

Interest Rate Shock and Sustainability of Italy's Sovereign Debt

by William R. Cline, Peterson Institute for International Economics

February 2012

Contagion from Greece, together with domestic political uncertainty in Italy, caused interest rates on Italian sovereign debt to spike in the second half of 2011. By January 2012, however, the short-term rate had fallen sharply and the long-term rate had eased as well. But this improvement is by no means assured to continue. Cline examines the sensitivity of the Italian public debt outlook to a new higher interest rate environment, as well as to possible shortfalls from fiscal targets. In terms of long-term solvency, Italy is not close to a precipice and could keep its debt ratio from escalating even if the recent peak interest rates on its debt (about 7 1/2 percent) were to return and persist for a long time (but rise no higher). However, there is a considerable chance that Italy would face a severe liquidity squeeze under these circumstances. It thus behooves the official sector in Europe and internationally to move quickly to provide some credible lender of last resort vehicle in the immediate future.

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