ECONOMY

Eurozone fiscal pact fails to restore confidence

A European summit deal to strengthen budget discipline in the euro zone failed to restore financial market confidence on Monday, forcing the European Central Bank to step in again gingerly.

The euro fell, stocks slid and borrowing costs for Italy and Spain rose as investors weighed the outcome of last week’s summit that split the European Union, with Britain blocking treaty change and forcing euro zone countries to negotiate a fiscal accord outside the Union.

Friday’s initial market rally quickly petered out due to legal uncertainty surrounding the new pact and the absence of an unlimited financial backstop for the single currency.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said the legal basis of a new accord to enforce debt and deficit rules in the 17-nation euro area with quasi-automatic sanctions and intrusive powers to reject national budgets would be worked out before Christmas.

“In the next fortnight, we will put together the legal content of our agreement. The aim is to have a treaty by March,» Sarkozy told newspaper Le Monde in an interview.

An EU diplomat said the first draft of the new treaty would be ready by early next week. Sarkozy said the aim was to have it ratified by all member states except Britain by June.

“You have to understand this is the birth of a different Europe – the Europe of the euro zone, in which the watchwords will be the convergence of economies, budget rules and fiscal policy,» the French leader said.

Traders said the ECB intervened to buy short-term Italian debt after yields on Italian and Spanish debt spiked.

The central bank revealed on Monday it had slashed bond purchases in the week before the EU summit as it raised pressure on the bloc’s leaders to act. It bought just 635 million euros in bonds in the week to December 9 compared to 3.66 billion the previous week.

ECB sources told Reuters on Friday purchases would remain limited, with no prospect of a «big bazooka» to shock markets.

Italian 5-year bond yields shot up above 7 percent, widely seen as a danger level while 10-year yields spiked above 6.8 percent and Spanish 10-year yields topped 6 percent.

Investors’ appetite for short-term paper drove Italian one-year borrowing costs down just below 6 percent at an auction but yields remain uncomfortably high.

The major ratings agencies could make matters worse.

Sarkozy prepared French voters for a possible downgrade of the country’s AAA credit rating but insisted he could cut the deficit without cutting salaries and pensions.

Moody’s Investors Service said it intends to review the ratings of all 27 members of the European Union in the first quarter of 2012 after EU leaders offered «few new measures» to resolve the crisis at their summit on Friday.

Fitch Ratings said the summit failed to provide a «comprehensive» solution to the crisis, thus increasing short-term pressure on euro zone sovereign ratings.

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