France in hot seat on alarming debt bell

Updated: 2011-11-24 11:24


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PARIS - After Ireland, Portugal, Greece, Italy and Spain, the alarming bell of debt crisis is ringing in France, where jitters over debt crisis's spread into core European economies is escalating, in a sign that the region is facing a serious emergency.

Worries about a wider fiscal gap and domestic banks' exposure to debt-ridden European countries brought France, the eurozone's second largest economy, in the firing line and triggered a sharp rise of its borrowing costs to levels considered unsustainable.

Last week, French 10-year bond yields rose by about 50 basis points, driving up the spread over safe haven German bonds to a euro-era high of 173 basis points.

Facing high tension in turbulent markets, the European Central Bank (ECB) tried to contain yields by buying bonds, but the move had little impact on morose markets where high tension prompted major sell-off, the worst within two months.

In Paris, CAC 40 lost 1.68 percent to 2.822 points in Wednesday' trading session. Stocks indexes in London and Frankfurt fell by 1.29 percent and 1.44 percent respectively. Milan registered a 2.59-percent drop, while Madrid plunged by 2.09 percent.

"It's obvious (that) debt crisis is knocking on France's door and even strongly following several announcements on possible downgrade of its rating debt and increase in its funding costs," Remy le Bailly, a financial analyst at Investir, told Xinhua.

Sarkozy's government "has made a mistake" and missed the chance to adjust its finances while presenting the second package of austerity measures early in November, Bailly said.

"The plan should include an amount of savings higher than 7 billion euros ($9.34 billion) announced in order to show the government's real will to curb the deficit. What can happen now? The decision is likely to be in the hands of the ECB," he added.

Being under heavy fire in global markets over its fiscal deficit, France asked stronger ECB action on bond purchases. However, Germany, the European powerhouse, still opposed the using of the central bank as the lender of last resort, insisting it was up to individual governments to put their fiscal houses in order.

Analysts said the dispute between Paris and Berlin over the role of the ECB could slacken further moves to resolve the spiraling sovereign debt crisis, making the eurozone's rating under threat.

On Monday, the rating agency Moody's warned that increase in interest rates on French government debt and sluggish economic growth prospects could be negative for France's triple A rating.

"High borrowing costs would amplify the fiscal challenges the French government faces amid in a context of deteriorating growth prospects, with negative credit implication," the rating agency Standard and Poor's said in its report.

However, French officials repeated double impact of weak growth and volatile financial markets would not taint the country's "stable" outlook.

In an interview with the local business daily Les Echos last week, Finance Minister Francois Baroin stressed that France still enjoyed its triple A debt rating despite "exceptional disturbances across the euro area."

Budget Minister and government spokeswoman Valerie Pecresse said on Monday that Paris would meet its deficit target without imposing a third savings' package despite market pressure on its cost of credit.

Sarkozy's government announced early this month a fresh package of austerity measures to garner additional 7 billion euros (9.34 billion dollars) in 2012.

The country has revised down its growth rate next year to 1 percent from the initial forecast of 2.25 percent. As to deficit, the government wants to narrow the figure to 4.5 percent from an expected 5.7 percent this year.

"According to what we are witnessing, no one can be safe from the debt crisis. Eurozone policymakers can not wait more. They have to set on the ground the different adopted measures and to act rapidly on reducing deficit unless the European bloc risks renewed pressure," Gregory Moore, an analyst at Montsegur Finances, told Xinhua.