Clouds of crisis return to Europe

Europe’s brief respite from political and financial turmoil has come to an abrupt halt in the wake of a nerve-rattling Italian election, Britain’s loss of its cherished triple-A credit rating and troubling developments on other fronts.

On Monday, the euro fell to its lowest level against the U.S. dollar in six weeks, but strengthened slightly against the British pound, which was shaken by the credit downgrade announced late Friday by Moody’s Investors Service. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index lost more ground in a single session that at any time since November. Italian bonds plunged and German bonds and U.S. Treasuries rallied, as nervous investors once again looked for safer harbours.

Two unlikely political hotheads – loudmouth comedian Beppe Grillo and Silvio Berlusconi, the aging schmoozer who never says die – turned the Italian election on its head, virtually guaranteeing that the country faces a period of political chaos. Continue reading

Berlusconi says Italy may be forced to leave the euro zone

ROME (Reuters) – Former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi said on Tuesday Italy would be forced to leave the euro zone unless the European Central Bank gets more powers to ensure lower borrowing costs.

Berlusconi, who announced this month he will again lead his People of Freedom party (PDL) in a national election expected in February, said on a talk-show on state broadcaster RAI that the ECB should become a lender of last resort for the currency bloc. Continue reading