(CNBC) Comparing Italy debt concerns to Greece is ‘not quite fair’: European Stability Mechanism chief

(CNBC)

  • It’s unfair to draw comparisons between Italy and Greece at the height of its debt crisis, according to Klaus Regling, managing director for the European Stability Mechanism.
  • Italy had always been in a much better situation because of its relatively smaller deficits, current account surplus and high private sector savings, Regling told CNBC.
  • Last month, the government agreed on a 2.4 percent budget deficit target for 2019, which is three times higher than the number that the previous government had planned.
Italy was 'always in a much better situation' than Greece: ESM

Italy was ‘always in a much better situation’ than Greece: ESM  

It’s unfair to draw comparisons between the current concerns about Italy’s budget deficit targets and Greece at the height of the its debt crisis, according to the managing director of Europe’s bailout fund.

Over the last eight years during the euro crisis, Italy never lost market access, Klaus Regling, managing director for the European Stability Mechanism, told CNBC’s Nancy Hungerford on Thursday at the IMF and World Bank annual meetings in Bali, Indonesia.

“The comparison with Greece is, I think, not quite fair, at least not when we compare Greece when it was in the difficult phase,” Regling said, adding, that Italy had long been in a much better situation.

“Because (Italy’s) deficits were relatively small, there’s a current account surplus for Italy, we know that a lot of the Italian sovereign debt is financed by residents because savings of the Italian private sector is very high,” he said.

Still, the country has become a concern for investors in recent weeks after its new coalition government announced plans to increase public spending in the coming years.

Last month, the government agreed on a 2.4 percent budget deficit target for 2019, which is three times higher than the number that the previous government had planned. It set a debt-to-GDP target of 130 percent in 2019. Italy also predicted growth rate for next year to be 1.5 percent.

Klaus Regling, managing director of the European Stability Mechanism. 

Andrew Harrer | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Klaus Regling, managing director of the European Stability Mechanism.

Rome holds the second-highest debt pile in the euro zone, totaling about 2.3 trillion euros ($2.67 trillion), and investors are worried that higher spending could prevent Italy from reducing its massive debt pile and may plunge the country into a sudden crisis.

Regling said there are some worries around the country’s deficit targets but pointed out that there is only a “preliminary indication” of what might be happening.

“There’s concern about budget numbers. We don’t know the details. They would only be given to the European Commission next week. They have a the job of checking the underlying data, which we don’t know yet,” he said.

When asked if the ESM is prepared to bail out Italy in the event of a potential debt crisis, Regling said such a question was jumping a bit ahead but pointed out that programs were available to all member states .

“I prefer to look at the detailed numbers when we get them next week,” he said. “As I said, Italy has its strengths, and I would not jump three steps ahead.”

Italy is due to send its 2019 budget to the European Commission for analysis by Oct.15.

Italian bond yields hit nearly a five-year high earlier this week, which indicated a higher risk environment. Ratings agencies are expected to announce their latest rating decisions for Italy before the end of October.