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Welcome to the "Wolf Creek Pass" School of Monetary Policy

I don’t know if you folks remember that hit ditty: a humorous tune about two truckers attempting to manhandle an out-of-control 1948 Peterbilt down the “other side” of Wolf Creek Pass – a death-taunting section of U.S. Highway 160 where the elevation drops a hefty 5,000 feet in a relatively short distance.

The song’s two characters – a truck driver named Earl and his brother, who’s his partner as well as the song’s narrator – are taking a flatbed load of chickens on a speedy trip down this winding, two-lane Colorado highway. After the narrator gives Earl the above-mentioned warning, the ancient semi’s brakes fail.

From there on down, the narrator tells us that the brothers’ trip “just wasn’t real pretty.” The truck careened around hairpins and switchbacks, and then raced at an uncontrolled 110 mph toward a tunnel with “clearance to the 12-foot line” – with chicken crates sadly “stacked to 13-9.”

The drivers and the runaway Peterbilt “went down and around and around and down ’til we run outta ground at the edge of town… and bashed into the side of the feed store – in downtown Pagosa Springs.”

Believe it or not, I started thinking about this funny old country tune the other night – right after I’d read a piece about QE3 and the U.S. Federal Reserve.

As zany as it first sounds, the parallels are striking.

  • Featured Story

    Too-Big-To-Save: Italy Totters on Debt Crisis Cliff

    With its 10-year bond yields nearing 7%, Italy's debt is becoming a burden it will no longer be able to handle as it follows the same path as Portugal, Ireland and Greece.

    However, Italy's economy - seven times larger than Greece's, nine times larger than Portugal's and 10 times larger than Ireland's - is too big for the Eurozone to rescue.

    And because Italy's economy is so large - the third-largest in the Eurozone and the eighth-largest in the world - a default on its sovereign debt would be that much more calamitous.

    Yesterday (Tuesday), yields on Italy's 10-year bonds hit 6.77%, a record for Italy in the era of the European Union (EU).

    "Now we are really reaching very dangerous levels...We are above yield levels in the 10-year where Portugal and Greece andIrelandissued their last bonds," Alessandro Giansanti, a rate strategist at ING Groep N.V. (NYSE ADR: ING), told Reuters.

    The spike in yields reflects rising investor concern that besieged Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi doesn't have the political muscle to push through the tough budget measures Italy needs, such as pension cuts, to get its debt issues under control.

    Those fears were further stoked yesterday when Berlusconi was unable to win a majority on a routine vote on a budget report, but eased when Berlusconi agreed to resign. Yields dipped slightly on Monday in response to rumors that Berlusconi might step down.

    "The market's bias is fairly clear. The question is; what comes afterward, assuming he falls?"Peter Schaffrik, head of European rates strategy atRBC Capital Marketsin London, told Bloomberg News.

    Unsustainable

    If Italy's bond yields don't fall significantly, it won't matter who's running the country. The high yields are making Italy's ability to cope with its debt increasingly infeasible.

    At 120% of gross domestic product (GDP), Italy's debt load is second only to Greece's among Eurozone nations. Its total debt of $2.7 trillion is the eighth-highest in the world.

    As bond yields go up, the cost of rolling over this massive amount of debt increases as well, and is nearing unsustainable levels.

    Italy needs to auction $41.5 billion (30 billion euros) of debt less than a week from now, Nov. 14, and another $31.13 billion (22.5 billion euros) in December. Next year Italy will need to borrow $415 billion (300 billion euros).

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  • Italian crisis