Italy Economy Real Time Data Charts

Edward Hugh is only able to update this blog from time to time, but he does run a lively Twitter account with plenty of Italy related comment. He also maintains a collection of constantly updated Italy economy charts together with short text updates on a Storify dedicated page Italy - Lost in Stagnation?

Friday, June 03, 2005

Maroni Update

Here's the FT's reading of the situation.

Note this extract: "As financial markets digested the remarks of Roberto Maroni, Italy's welfare minister, the interest rate differential between Italian and German bonds rose to 23 basis points, the widest spread since November 2002."

These are the numbers we will be following at Afoe moving forward. Maroni is a member of a Northern xenophobic party that wants an independent country for the north of Italy. But *note*: he is in the government, and responsible for an important part of the Lisbon agenda, labour reform. So this is not some complete outside crank. Bottom line: Berlusconi's government is an unstable coalation, and this very instability *is* cause for concern, especially since we have just seen mainstream politicians lose important votes in two of Europe's more stable democracies.

Basically I am a great admirer of the late Karl Popper, especially interms of his idea of science as being moved by daring conjectures, and then attempts at refuting them. When I came to the conclusion that demography might be more important for economic theory than it was fashionable to accept today, I tried to set myself an objective, a hypothesis whose confirmation, or absence of it, would help me decide if I was on the right lines.

Japan was already mired in crisis (we are talking about 2001 here), so I asked myself, if you are right what should happen next. Italy should enter a sudden and otherwise relatively unexplicable economic decline was my response. This is why I started the blog, and this is why I have maintained a continuing interest in Italy.

Having said that, I am not a reductionist. Italy's demographic problems form an important backdrop for the present 'embarrasment of difficulties', but of course it is by no means the only factor.

Another stab at what I think is the problem in Italy can be found in this post.

Italian Referendum Call

But in this case the vote would be about Italy's continuing membership of the euro-zone, rather than the EU constitution. Now before going any further, I feel the need to advise extreme caution in the face of such developments.

In the first place the call comes from the Italian Labor Minister - and member of the separatist Liga Del Norte - Robert Maroni: It was made in an interview published by the Italian newspaper La Repubblica. He was not making a statement on behalf of the government, he was in all probability 'electioneering'. (See Fran's post: those politicians).

Apart from the political dimension, it is important to remember that Italy is now in an economic crisis which is every bit as profound, if not more profound, that that being experienced by Germany.

Quickly summarised Italy's problems are:

* What appears to be enduring economic stagnation
* An outdated economic structure (poor product mix)
* Lack of competitiveness and a deteriorating balance of payments
* A currency which is too high to recover competitiveness
* A rate of interest which may be too high
* An extraordinarily poor productivity performance
* Massive and accelerating public debt (over 100% of GDP and rising)
* Europe's most rapidly ageing population
* A noted aversion for accepting immigrants

I will try and flesh this out a little more calmly over the weekend. But in broad brush strokes this is it. Now, vis-a-vis the euro, it is unsurprising that Maroni should choose today to make this statement, since Economics Commissioner Joaquim Almunia has set June 7th 'D' day for initiating a formal excess deficits procedure against Italy and Portugal. As I indicated before the French vote there is every reason to imagine that the new version of the pact will be strictly enforced (this was emphasised by Almunia's presence at yesterday's ECB press conference), especially after the French and Dutch votes and the need to convince everyone that 'the euro *is* a huge success.

Secondly, the ECB yesterday gave no indication of having any inclination of coming to Italy's assistance by lowering the refinance rate.

So it may well be that some Italian politicians can see that it's 'game over'.

Add to this the fact that some people in Italy were extremely relucltant about the euro even on from first day, and you have all the ingredients of an ongoing problem.

Remember too that with elections coming next year, someone may try and make this an election issue.

Background: The following Country Study From Ecfin (may 2005): Italy Stuck In A Rut


The Italian economy has shown weak growth ever since the beginning of the 1990s. More recently it has developed two particularly striking, interlinked symptoms: a discouraging performance by exports and the longest stagnation of output in the tradable goods sector in post-war history. In contrast to previous episodes of weak growth, the current difficulties are not caused by supply shocks such as excessive wage increases. On the contrary, the dismal export performance has fallen within a period of wage moderation, and, since the late 1990s, of buoyant employment growth. The persistent loss of export market share would seem to chiefly result from the unfavourable product specialisation of the Italian economy ? more recently coupled with a marked slowdown in productivity growth. Italy?s product specialisation, unlike that of countries such as Germany or France, has not significantly changed over past decades in reaction to global economic developments. Italian industry remains strong in traditional, low-skilled labourintensive sectors for which global demand is growing below average. The inertia is generally attributed to a number of structural factors which are hampering change, including low levels of R&D investment, low human capital, low competition ? issues that fall within the remit of the Lisbon strategy.

Also this weeks NTC Research PMI survey: the sharpest deterioration in 41 months in May,

and the OECD's latest economic outlook for Italy.

That's why when Maroni says "We're already heading towards Argentina, that's why we have to change direction," I'm inclined to believe he is in earnest.