‘Absolutely baseless’: Italian Treasury denies it could lose $10.4bn

‘Absolutely baseless’: Italian Treasury denies it could lose $10.4bn
The Italian treasury has denied reports in the Financial Times that Italy risked losing $10.4bn on derivatives contracts, and called the suggestion ‘absolutely baseless’.

The contracts were made in the late 1990s so Italy could meet the criteria to join the euro currency.

They were restructured at the peak of euro zone crisis in 2012 with foreign banks in order to reduce interest rates and currency risk.

The FT reported the Italian economy could suffer losses of up to $10.4 billion on the derivatives, which were calculated based on market prices on June 20.

Debt derivatives were used as a hedge against foreign exchange and interest rate risks, they don’t  pose the astronomical financial threat reported by the media, the Treasury said.

Unease in the banking community ensued after the FT published its report, and raised concerns Italy was sitting on a ticking $10.4 billion time bomb of derivative debt.

The estimates on the derivative contracts were sourced from independent experts, and not the Italian treasury auditor itself, Bloomberg reported.

The wave of panic provoked an official statement from the treasury, as well as European Commission Bank President Mario Draghi, who was the head of the Italian Treasury in the late 1990s, when the contracts were issued.

"The market value of derivative instruments at a specific time... cannot in any case be treated as an actual loss," the Treasury said.

In 2001, Draghi began work at Goldman Sachs, which was involved in derivative contracts in Greece, but Draghi denies any connection. The government admitted in March 2012 it had paid U.S. investment bank Morgan Stanley 2.57 billion euros to close derivatives contracts from 1994.

"Many mistakes were made during the 1990s to get Italy into the euro and today those are turning into more debt, hidden in the official accounts," La Repubblica published an anonymous government official as saying.

The panic was in part fueled by the ECB’s pledge to buy the bonds of countries in distress, which spread fear the banks may no longer be liquid.

Short-term debt costs doubled on the expectation the US Federal Reserve would curb its monetary stimulus.

Italy’s borrowing costs rose at a sale of 8 billion euros ($10.4 billion), which is the highest since February 26th. It plans to auction off 5 billion in 5 and 10 year bonds tomorrow.

The ECB’s monetary policy “will stay accommodative for the foreseeable future,” Draghi said in a speech today at the French National Assembly in Paris. “We have an open mind about all other possible instruments that we may consider proper to adopt,” and added an exit remains far off.

Italy has been hit hard by the euro crisis, and further complicated by political uncertainty and scandal. Italy’s overall debt is 2 trillion euros.