Italian stocks and bonds roiled by populist program

Italian financial assets were hit hard Friday after the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement and the right-wing League party unveiled a program that could clear the way to Italy’s first populist government.

The platform includes a rollback on pension reform, a minimum salary for struggling Italians and the introduction of a flat tax, which will contribute to a large fiscal expansion that economists and EU policymakers worry will increase the country’s debt burden.

The program also introduces a tougher stance on deporting migrants while calling for a better dialogue with Russia on economic and foreign policy matters.

Rank-and-file members of the 5-Star Movement were voting Friday on the program online, while the League was allowing its voters to signal their positions with old-fashioned in-person voting in gazebos in town and city centers on Saturday.

Luigi Di Maio, the 5-Star leader, assured his voters that they would find the money to pay for social programs and tax cuts both through investments and upcoming negotiations in Brussels on the European Union’s seven-year budget cycle

But the markets were not assuaged.

The spread on Italian debt verses the benchmark German bund widened to 165 basis points, the highest level since October — but still well below the crisis levels of 2011. The Italian stock market also weakened, with the benchmark FTSE MIB closing the day down 1.5 percent at 23,449.65.

Banks were especially hard hit after the two parties indicated they wanted to keep troubled bank Monte dei Paschi di Siena under government control after last year’s bailout. The bank is now 68-percent government owned, but under European rules state support that can only be temporary.

Di Maio and League leader Matteo Salvini are to present their program and minister list, including a premier candidate, to Italian President Sergio Mattarella on Monday.

The premier candidate is proving a sticking point. Salvini has said the two leaders have agreed it won’t be either of them, but no clear candidate has emerged who would be loyal to the program without stealing too much of the party leaders’ thunder.

The 5-Stars and the League made the biggest gains in the March elections, but neither has enough support to govern alone. They have rushed to pull together a program in the last 10 days after Mattarella threatened to form a “neutral government.”

This article provided by NewsEdge.