Italy scraped through a key bond auction test on Thursday at the end of a disastrous year for the eurozone, as Prime Minister Mario Monti prepared to outline plans to get the economy out of recession.
The Treasury raised 7.0 billion euros ($9.0 billion) -- below the maximum sought of 8.5 billion euros but with long-term rates holding below the danger threshold of 7.0 percent which has set off alarm bells around the world.
The rate on bonds due in 2021 was at 6.7 percent -- higher than the level of 5.77 percent for the last similar operation on October 13. The rate on bonds due in 2022, however, was 6.98 percent compared to 7.56 percent in November.
The ability of Italy to borrow on the market was being closely watched as a test of confidence in the eurozone after the single currency fell to an 11-month low against the dollar and traded down against the yen in an indication of investor jitters.
The eurozone's third largest economy, Italy sparked fears this year that its toxic mix of low growth, high debt and spiralling borrowing costs could force it to seek a bailout like fellow eurozone members Greece, Ireland and Portugal.
Silvio Berlusconi's replacement by Monti as prime minister last month has helped ease fears of an imminent debt implosion as the former European Union commissioner quickly put in place a tough plan of austerity measures.
But there is still concern over the plan's impact on an economy that is moving into recession after shrinking by 0.2 percent in the third quarter.
The government is forecasting a contraction of 0.4 percent next year.
Monti is set to outline plans to boost growth at an end-of-year press conference later on Thursday, with newspapers saying the government could try to put in place a new law to increase competition by the end of January.
Reports have also mentioned the possibility of a wide-ranging privatisation programme and an overhaul of the labour market that is being fiercely opposed by centre-left parties and the powerful trade union movement.
"Investors still need to gain some confidence on the long term" for Italian bonds, said Gregorio De Felice, chief economist at Intesa Sanpaolo bank.
There was more bad news on the economic front meanwhile with a closely watched business confidence index falling to 92.5 points in December.
Confidence fell partly steeply for the construction and retail sectors after a Christmas season in which consumption was down compared to last year.
Italy will have to raise some 450 billion euros on the debt markets in 2012 -- with around 53 billion euros to be raised next month -- and analysts say it will struggle if the relatively high rates seen recently persist.
Italy on Wednesday raised 9.0 billion euros in six-month bonds at a rate of 3.251 percent -- half the rate of 6.504 percent that it was forced to pay in November and below the level of 3.535 percent it paid in October.
Analysts suggested that banks making use of low-cost European Central Bank money were largely behind the auction's success, along with the austerity measures adopted this month and aimed at restoring budget balance by 2013.
The ECB last week provided banks with a record 489.2 billion euros in three-year loans at an interest rate of just 1.0 percent.
While the injection was made in order to avoid a credit crunch, the low rate makes it easy for banks to make money off higher-yielding bonds, and analysts have been anticipating the funds may help lower government borrowing costs.
Borrowing costs have spiked to record highs across the 17-nation eurozone in the past few months over fears that economies like Italy could be forced to seek giant international bailouts that would bankrupt Europe.
European leaders have agreed to strengthen rules and sanctions for keeping public accounts in order but there are lingering doubts about the deal and about the impact of an expected slowdown in eurozone growth in 2012.