Soccer stars in Italy urge bond buying

City A.M. Reporter
Italy’s soccer players have joined the fight to save the nation’s finances, urging supporters to buy government bonds in a campaign kicking off today which underlines how far the debt crisis has moved from the business pages into everyday life.

News bulletins have been dominated for months by the crisis, making esoteric financial terms like “spreads”, “inverted yield curves” and “single A ratings” familiar fare for Italian television viewers.

BTP Day, the brainchild of the Corriere della Sera newspaper and Italy’s banking association, will allow Italians to buy government bonds, known as BTPs, without paying the normal bank commission, and soccer players are backing the drive.

“Some of us are selected to play for Italy but all of us support our country and above all, we believe in its strengths,” former national soccer player Damiano Tommasi, now head of the Italian footballers’ association, told the ANSA news agency.

“That’s why we are joining BTP Day on Monday.”

Even in soccer-mad Italy, that may not be enough to turn back the awesome power of the bond markets, but every little bit will help with up to €8 bn (£6.9bn) of BTPs coming on to the market tomorrow.

Markets have hammered Italian bonds in recent months as doubts have mounted over public debt amounting to 120 per cent of gross domestic product.

But Italians, some of Europe’s most cautious savers, have traditionally been keen buyers of government paper, which accounts for about 20 per cent of their total wealth, against just 1.6 per cent for the French and 7.8 per cent for Germans, according to Italian bourse figures.

That has encouraged official efforts to tap into the retail market, with the Treasury planning to launch direct sales of new bonds to retail investors via an online platform next year.

Domestic banks and other investors hold more than 50 per cent of Italian government debt, leaving the country much less dependent on the movements of foreign investors than other heavily indebted countries like Greece.