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Euro zone budget savings could complicate ECB rate hikes: Bundesbank

Reuters

FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Euro zone countries have saved nearly a trillion euros ($1.17 trillion) in debt costs since the global financial crisis and governments may now try to pressure the European Central Bank to keep borrowing costs low, the Bundesbank said on Monday.

With interest rates at record lows, Italy has booked the biggest savings compared with pre-crisis levels, and the most indebted governments may struggle to cope with rising debt service costs once rates rise, a potential drag on growth and a risk to central bank independence, the Bundesbank said.

"There is an increasing risk that the confidence in the sustainability of the state finances of individual countries will be eroded once interest rates rise, threatening to put pressure on monetary policy to counter this," the Bundesbank said in a monthly report.

Besides Italy, the Netherlands, Austria, France and Belgium were the top savers. Germany, the biggest euro zone economy, saved around 240 billion euros, the Bundesbank said.

"If rates on average were still at their pre-crisis levels, interest expense last year alone would have increased by nearly 2 percent of the nominal gross domestic product," the Bundesbank said. "Since 2008, savings have totaled almost 1 trillion euros or almost 9 percent of euro area GDP."

The Bundesbank noted that Greece falls in a different category, since it has received three bailouts since the start of its crisis but a similar calculation would show it saved over 21 percent of GDP in debt costs.

Regarding current conditions, the Bundesbank added that the German economy probably produced robust growth in the second quarter and the economy starts the third quarter in "excellent" position.

Growth is driven by export demand, construction and robust consumption, it added.

(Reporting by Balazs Koranyi, editing by Larry King)