Italy looks to sell public 'assets' to solve debt woes

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Italy eyeing public asset sale to slash debt

July 15, 2012

Italy's new finance minister said the government could raise up to 20 billion euros a year in public asset sales, and accused the markets of failing to recognise Rome's efforts to bring its finances in order.

Vittorio Grilli, who was appointed just last week, also lashed out at rating agencies, in comments to the Corriere della Sera published Sunday in the wake of the decision by Moody's to downgrade Italian debt.

"The government wants to secure, through a multi-year programme, the sale of public assets for between 15 and 20 billion euros ($18 billion to $25 billion) a year, or one percent of gross domestic product," he said.

He said such a programme could reduce Italy's debt, which is currently approaching two trillion euros or 123 percent of GDP, by 20 percent in five years.

"I would be happy to reduce it to 100%, it would be wonderful. Unfortunately... there are no longer as many saleable assets belonging to the state and public enterprises as there were 20 years ago."

Grilli also said that relations with credit rating agencies had "become difficult", in the wake of the decision by Moody's last week to downgrade Italian debt from A3 to Baa2 -- just two notches above junk-bond status.

"Before the subprime crisis, they gave the top triple A rating to entities (that posed) that real public danger, such as special purpose vehicles," he said, referring to complex financial instruments that packaged toxic debt.

"Since the bubble burst, the rating agencies -- private companies that have a potential conflict of interest with their clients with an exposure to an exclusively American culture -- are always late.

"They amplify the effects of events rather than anticipate them," he said.

Turning to financial markets he said they "do do not yet recognise the quality of our country's efforts to put the accounts in order. A balanced budget is at hand, structural reforms are being undertaken."

"No other country has done so much in so little time," he said.

He also said the government was reaping the rewards of its fight against tax evasion, that would bring an extra two billion euros into the treasury coffers.

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