The flight into dodgy sovereign debt

German bond yields are down to all-time lows as market turmoil causes investors to pile into sovereign debt, no matter how overpriced. The yield on the benchmark ten-year bond touched –0.219% on Monday, with investors apparently unperturbed by the negative yield. Bond yields move inversely to prices, so when yields fall – even below zero – that still implies a capital gain for bond holders.

Bond bullishness was not limited to Europe’s most rock-solid country. Investors have even been lapping up Italian debt, notes Nikou Asgari in the Financial Times. Rome issued €4.6bn of bonds last week, with “demand for the five-year bond” at its highest level since August last year. Ten-year Italian yields hit a two month-low of 2.48% this week.

Yet Rome’s borrowings have reached an eye-watering €2.4trn, or 132% of GDP. Far-right League leader Matteo Salvini recently announced plans to spend a further €30bn on a flat tax, a clear provocation at a time when the European Commission has already warned Rome about its profligacy. “Italy’s debt is less sustainable than that of Greece,” says Simona Gambarini of Capital Economics. “If growth in Italy deteriorates, concerns about its debt sustainability are likely to intensify.” That means that, extraordinarily, “it may now be more risky to hold Italian bonds than Greek ones”, writes John Ainger on Bloomberg.