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Italy Survives Fitch Judgment in Boost for Meloni Before Moody’s

(Bloomberg) -- Italy retained a credit assessment two notches above junk from Fitch Ratings, a vote of confidence in the fiscal approach of Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s right-wing coalition.

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Debt issued by the euro zone’s third-biggest economy will keep its classification at the second-lowest investment-grade level of BBB with a stable outlook, the ratings company said in a statement on Friday.

Italy’s “credit features are balanced against weak macroeconomic and fiscal fundamentals, in particular very high government debt, a comparatively loose fiscal stance since the pandemic, subdued economic growth potential and more recently, the higher yield environment,” Fitch said.

The announcement is the second of three major credit appraisals faced by Italy in what amounts to a series of fiscal report cards six months since Meloni took office.

Combined with a Standard & Poor’s decision last month to keep its own settings at equivalent levels, the Fitch report is an endorsement of the government’s cautious approach to nursing public finances whose borrowings exceed 140% of output. That in turn may help preserve its attractiveness to bond investors.

Italy will run the gauntlet of a more precarious update from Moody’s Investors Service on May 19. The country is currently the only one assessed by that company at risk of losing its investment-grade rating. That’s at the lowest notch of Baa3.

The outcome of that decision is just one danger facing a fractious coalition encountering increasing headwinds. Italy is struggling to spend money from the European Union’s Recovery Fund, risking that some projects won’t be completed in time for a 2026 deadline. That would slow investments in the economy meant to spark more permanent growth.

For now, the country has avoided the sort of turmoil in bond markets that troubled it in the past. The premium paid by Italy’s 10-year yield over the safer German one has been trading below 200 basis points, down from 250 basis points in late 2022.

That benign backdrop stems from a quieter period in politics, the Italian government’s stated aim for fiscal prudence, and the European Central Bank’s anti-crisis tool unveiled last year.

While the bond-buying tool has never been used, it has offered a big support to peripheral euro-zone countries because investors expect it to be deployed if major market stress erupts.

Meloni has presented a conservative budget with both the deficit and debt on a downward path, alongside plans to keep investing in the economy.

The Fitch report may aid her politically, avert a potential threat to the stability of the governing coalition which includes former Premier Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party and Matteo Salvini’s League.

Fitch’s next assessment is scheduled for Nov. 10.

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