Italy will fail to reduce its debt load this year as much as previously targeted due to lower than expected economic growth.
The debt ratio, the euro region’s second-highest, will slip to 132.4 percent of gross domestic product this year from 132.7 percent in 2015, Finance Minister Pier Carlo Padoan told reporters in Rome after the cabinet met to pass the government budget plan. The new forecast for 2016 compares with the 131.4 percent target published by Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s administration in September. The debt goal’s revision is due to sluggish economic and consumer price growth, said Padoan who has staked his credibility on reducing Italy’s debt this year. The budget plan shows the government targeting economic growth of 1.2 percent in 2016 and 1.4 percent in 2017, down from previous projections of 1.6 percent for both years. “In a certain sense it’s better for the government to be honest because the previous number seemed optimistic,” said Marc Ostwald, a strategist at ADM Investor Services International Ltd in London. Still, “there are a lot of people who will doubt whether it will be achieved.”
The government targets a decline in the budget deficit to 2.3 percent of GDP this year from 2.6 percent in 2015. For next year, it aims to narrow the gap to 1.8 percent of GDP. The new targets are “compatible” with the requests of the European Union, Padoan said.
Last year, Italy emerged from its longest recession since World War II as both domestic demand and exports increased. To keep up, and counter a slowdown in global trade, the Italian economy will have to be more competitive and investments will have to accelerate, Padoan said.
So far, the ECB’s quantitative easing has shielded Italy from an even worse fate, according to a study by the country’s central bank. “The Italian recession would have ended only in 2017 and inflation would have remained negative for the whole three-year period” of 2015-2017, Ignazio Visco, an ECB Governing Council member and Bank of Italy Governor, said in a speech in Frankfurt on Thursday. To help reduce the debt load, the government is targeting privatizations totaling as much as 0.5 percent of GDP each year, Padoan said. The government is considering “several options to meet that target,” he said without elaborating further.
“What Italy needs is more inflation and more growth to help get debt levels down,” Kit Juckes, global strategist at Societe Generale said in an interview. Societe Generale sees debt-to-GDP under 130 percent in 2020 with GDP growth remaining under 1 percent per year.