cost of debt

Another rate rise is likely on March 15, after a member of the MPC said it would have to raise rates to combat a “wave of inflation” coming from abroad. Last month, Poland raised its key refinancing rate 25bp, its first increase since the crisis.

“Through trade, an inflation wave is reaching even here. There is no other way. The MPC (Monetary Policy Council) will have to raise interest rates,” Jerzy Hausner said in an article coauthored with Miroslaw Gronicki, a former finance minister, reports Reuters. 

Do the markets know something we don’t?

S&P cut Ireland’s credit rating by one notch today, taking it to A- (still several notches above Moody’s and Fitch, at equivalent peggings of Baa1 or BBB+ respectively). Yet markets continue to relax, with the Irish ten-year cost of debt falling 20 basis points today, a fifth of one percent; at 5.45pm they were 8.8 per cent.

The cost of debt for Spain, Portugal, Italy, Belgium and Greece have all fallen, too. Greek yields are below 11 per cent for the first time since early November.

Gary Jenkins, head of fixed income for Evolution Securities, says: “It is interesting that while the story [that the EFSF mandate will be widened to allow debt buybacks] has been doing the rounds for three weeks now, yesterday was the first day since then that we have witnessed yields moves of such a magnitude, which does make one wonder if there has not been a leak ahead of the European leaders’ summit on Friday.” 

€2.3bn government bonds bought by the ECB settled last week, taking the emergency assistance back up to levels last seen during the Irish bail-out. Many of the bonds bought are likely to have been Portuguese, in particular during its debt auction on January 12 at which bond yields fell.

The value of bonds settling last week was 20 times that of the week before. Yields have been extremely volatile of late in struggling eurozone economies, including the “periphery” and Belgium. The cost of Greek and Portuguese debt is still falling following the latest interventions and market-calming discussions, but yields in Spain, Italy and Belgium are all rising once again.

Rumour has it that the ECB is buying Greek bonds again. Bloomberg news wire quotes a single person with knowledge of the transactions, who said purchases were mostly in maturities of five years.

The news comes as yields on 10-year Greek government debt surpass the record levels last seen in the May bail-out. Back then, yields spiked from about 8 per cent to more than 12 per cent, before falling equally sharply back following bail-out talks. This time, yields have grown slowly and steadily (see chart). These yields are what the market charges on reselling government debt: they are not the actual cost of debt to the government as at auction. In the absence of continuous auctions, however, they are a good proxy.

The cost of debt in the four “peripheral” countries – Greece, Portugal, Spain and Ireland – all reacted strangely to Ireland’s bail-out. The bail-out was intended to reassure markets, but yields did not fall as much as expected and since then have risen in all cases. Only in Spain are yields now tempering. 

Dublin is resisting pressure to accept aid. Discussions have been taking place over the weekend, with European officials making the case for aid, and Irish officialsdetermined to get out of the financial difficulties [they] are in.”

Little has changed in the fundamentals of the Irish economy. Market pressures were prompted by discussions of the eurozone rescue fund a few weeks ago, in which it seemed bondholders would lose money in the case of default. Debt prices fell, and yields soared. This tempered considerably on Friday, after finance ministers from Europe’s five largest economies suggested the loss on bonds would not be retrospective and the entire thing might be voluntary. 

The key level of 8 per cent has been rapidly passed today by rising Irish ten-year bond yields. London clearing house LCH.Clearnet has now moved to protect itself from any possible restructure, by making it more expensive to trade Irish debt.

LCH.Clearnet, the world’s second largest fixed income clearing house, said an additional 15 per cent margin requirement would be charged on investors’ net exposure to Irish bonds because of the increasing risk of a sovereign default. It’s another blow, following news that some SWFs were divesting Irish and Portuguese debt. The ECB is apparently buying Irish debt yet again.

Tension rose today following a Portuguese debt auction. Lisbon did sell €686m 10-year bonds and €556m 6-year bonds, less than the guideline range, which was €750-1250m in both cases. (Selling less than the guideline amount has been a feature of Portuguese debt auctions since July.)

Yields, however, were punitive. Lisbon will pay 6.81 per cent 

It must be painful viewing for Ireland and Portugal. Whether it’s risk aversion or a straight out bond bubble, yields are still falling on US treasuries – meaning the US government can borrow ever more cheaply.

One-year bonds (or to be exact, 52-week bills) have risen slightly to 0.265 per cent, from September’s record low of 0.26 per cent. But the other maturities are at or approaching record lows. 

Portugal is the latest PIIGS government to suffer a sharp increase in its cost of debt. Like Ireland earlier in the week, Portugal has raised a significant amount of debt at auction at roughly one percentage point above the last auction.

Unlike Ireland, Portugal raised just three-quarters of its intended €1bn offering – not because of a lack of demand, but because Lisbon refused to accept the very high yields demanded by some investors. €400m of 2014 bonds sold at 4.695 per cent; €350m 2020 bonds sold at 6.242 per cent. 

Ireland has successfully raised €1.5bn on the markets – but at a price. €1bn 2018 bonds sold at an average yield of 6.023 per cent, nearly a 1 percentage point premium over their last offering in June.

€500m of 2014 bonds were also sold at 4.767 per cent, 1.1pp more than a similar offering in August

Five-year Treasuries can be added to the growing list of US government debt being auctioned at record low yields. They join two- and three-year Treasuries in this unusual attribute.

The auction was agreed at a high yield of 1.374 per cent – a staggering 42bp drop from last month’s yield of 1.796 per cent. That’s a fall of 23 per cent.