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The following commentary comes from an independent investor or market observer as part of TheStreet's guest contributor program, which is separate from the company's news coverage.
NEW YORK (
ETF Expert) -- Approximately one month ago, Standard & Poor's placed 15 European nations on review for potential credit downgrades. In spite of the implications, Italian bonds began to climb and their yields began to fall, as many were hopeful that an upcoming summit between European Union leaders might put an end to the region's spreading debt crisis.
Indeed, on Dec. 5, newfound enthusiasm pushed Italian 10-year yields down to manageable rates, somewhere below 6%. The
S&P 500 benchmark for U.S. stocks also gained on hopes for the EU meet-'n'-greet, rising to 1257.
However, after European leaders concluded the weekend festivities on Dec. 11, investors feared that little had been accomplished. Stock assets around the globe took yet another pounding. And Italian 10-year yields climbed back above 7%.
Here's the dilemma: Even as we celebrate an apparent breakout for U.S. stocks in the New Year -- even as the S&P 500 is now up to a friendlier level of 1292 (Jan. 10) -- the
sovereign debt crisis isn't subsiding. One month after the EU summit, Italian yields are still above 7%.
The 7% rate is considered the rate at which Italy's debts become unsustainable. At 7%, the government might find itself in the same place as Greece -- seeking a bailout.
Unfortunately, Italy is the third-largest issuer of bonds in the entire world. A bailout might require assistance from more than Europe; it would probably include the EU, the International Monetary Fund, the U.S., the U.K. and oh, yes . . . the People's Republic of China.
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Granted, the U.S.
Federal Reserve or the European Central Bank may decide to directly purchase Italian bonds, hoping that artificially lower yields inspire confidence. On the other hand, buying time and buying Italian bonds may fail to inspire confidence at all. When one buys time through quantitative easing, one is looking for the economy to gain traction. Few believe that Italy can gain the kind of economic traction that the U.S. can.
The bottom line? ETF investors may wish to take their cues from two funds: (1)
iShares MSCI Italy(EWI) and (2)
PowerShares DB Italian Treasury Bond Futures ETN
(ITLY). Both are below 50-day trendlines. Both tell us that the sovereign debt crisis is far from over.