Business

Italian government 'in bond buying talks with China'

China's largest sovereign wealth fund is considering buying Italian assets, according to reports in the Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal.

China Investment Corporation (CIC) and Italian officials have held meetings in the last month, the reports said.

CIC is wholly owned by the Chinese government and has an estimated $400bn (£250bn) in assets.

The news comes at a time when the cost of borrowing for the Italian government has reached record highs.

"When you introduce a large buyer like China, it brings down the interest rate," Mark Young of Fitch Ratings told the BBC.

"They can then fund their economic growth more easily," he added.

Strategic stakes?

The FT reported that Lou Jiwei, the chairman of China Investment Corporation, had met Italian finance minister Giulio Tremonti and other officials in Rome last week.

It added that Italian officials had visited Beijing the week before, and negotiations had also taken place in August.

As well as buying bonds, the FT said the talks also covered investments in "strategic" Italian companies.

According to the newspaper, Italian officials said further negotiations were expected to take place soon.

The impact of the news on market sentiment could come as early as Tuesday when Italy issues up to 7bn euros of longer-term debt, including a new five-year bond.

Italy's previous long-term sale at the end of August attracted poor demand for a new 10-year bond.

Wu Xiaoling, a former deputy governor of the People's Bank of China and now a senior government official, said on Tuesday that Beijing was ready to work with Europe to boost market confidence.

"We will continue to support Europe's measures in maintaining a stable euro," he told the Reuters news agency.

News that China is looking at Italian assets caused US stocks to rebound in late afternoon trading on Monday, cutting their earlier losses.

However, on Tuesday Asian markets had a mixed opening because many analysts questioned whether a purchase of Italian assets by China would do anything to resolve Europe's debt problems.

They said there was still a danger the crisis would spread, not least because Greece was still at risk of defaulting on its debt holdings.

"Europe is not just lurching from one crisis to another. It is lurching into a new one before the previous one is solved," said Makoto Noji of SMBC Nikko Securities.

Creditor vs debtor

Italy has a national debt of 120% of gross domestic product (GDP) and accounts for 23% of all eurozone sovereign debt.

According to the International Monetary Fund, it will need to raise funds equalling as much as 20% of its GDP in 2012 to refinance its debt.

On the other hand, China has been sitting on huge piles of cash, with foreign exchange reserves in excess of $3tn.

Analysts said given its deep pockets, it was no surprise that countries were seeking China's help.

"It is a natural consequence of creditor and debtor nations, one supporting the other," Fitch ratings' Mr Young said.

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