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Italy risk hits bourse, euro backs EU shares

Italy's two anti-system parties’ progress to form a coalition and free up billions of euros for tax cuts and welfare scared off investors and hit the Milan bourse yesterday, while a weak euro provided support to the broader European market.

The pan-European STOXX 600 index rose 0.2 per cent, hovering around its highest level since early February but Italy’s FTSE MIB fell 2.3 per cent, its worst fall since the election in early March.

Italian banks, seen as a proxy for political risk in the country due notably to their government bond holdings, fell 3.68 per cent as borrowing costs jumped.

Italy already has a debt pile worth more than 130 per cent of annual output and the parties’ pledge to introduce a flat tax rate of 15 per cent, new welfare payments and scrap an unpopular pension reform are likely to street the country’s finances.

The fall of the Milan bourse comes after months of outperformance against its European peers despite that the far-right League and the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement emerged as clear winners from the election.

“I often think that political risk is overpriced into the market, but this time it hadn’t really been priced in at all,” said Chris Hiorns, manager of the Amity European fund at EdenTree. “You have to question why the Italian market was doing quite so well when the political situation seemed so tenuous,” said Mr Hiorns.

One exception on the Italian market was Saipem, which soared 12.2 per cent to the top of the STOXX after Bernstein upgraded it to “outperform”, reflecting gro-wing optimism in the embattled Italian oil firm’s recovery.

The recent surge in crude oil prices has helped the oil and gas sector rise 13 per cent so far this year, leading sectoral gainers in Europe. A weaker euro provided support for dollar-earning European companies as the dollar extended its rally against a basket of currencies and touched a five-month high. Miners and the broader basic materials sector benefited from the trend and closed 2.79 per cent higher.

One other top STOXX gainer was Homeserve, which surged to 9.3 per cent after UBS upped its recommendation to “buy”.

Micro Focus rose 6.1 per cent after Britain’s leading software company said a new $40 million licensing deal would help bolster its first-half revenue. Paddy Power Betfair rose 6.7 per cent after the bookmaker said it was discussing a combination of its US business and fantasy company Fanduel to target the prospective US sports betting market.

Elsewhere, Elior, however, fell 13.9 per cent following a profit warning.

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