Pressure grew on the European Central Bank to step in Thursday and calm financial markets as ECB governors meet here amid the latest flare-up in an increasingly dangerous eurozone debt crisis.
"At least they can send a message to say that this cannot carry on and there will be measures taken," urged Angel de Molina Rodriguez at the Spanish brokerage Tressis.
Traders have sent the yields and risk premiums on Spanish and Italian bonds to record highs in recent days, threatening to spread the eurozone debt crisis to its third- and fourth-largest economies.
With the US debt crisis now resolved, the markets have shifted focus to the apparent economic slowdown, which has intensified concern that slow-growth Italy and Spain will be unable to cope with their debts.
RBS economist Nick Matthews added that "with the periphery crisis deepening, we expect the ECB to ultimately be forced to resume (sovereign) bond purchases before year-end," a timeframe that looked quite accomodating indeed.
The central bank could be forced to move much faster than that to ease pressure now focused on Italy and Spain as money markets have driven up the cost of borrowing for the heavily indebted governments to levels widely considered unsustainable.
The renewed tensions reflected growing concern "about the systemic capacity of the euro area to respond to the evolving crisis," European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso acknowledged on Wednesday.
He also urged governments to enact a debt crisis plan agreed two weeks ago "without delay."
The plan is to provide a second rescue package for Greece and a backstop for Ireland, Italy, Portugal and Spain as they struggle with excessive debt and/or deficits.
One part forsees a eurozone crisis fund taking over from the ECB the task of buying public debt, but not all the details have been worked out and they must then be approved first by eurozone members, a process which could take months.
ECB bond purchases have been an effective way to stem panic or speculative selling of sovereign bonds that drives up the cost of borrowing for heavily indebted governments.
But a key ECB governor, German central bank chief Jens Wiedmann, has slammed more purchases of sovereign bonds, even by the European Financial Stability Facility, suggesting a possibly nasty split among council members on the issue.
The bank has suspended purchases of such bonds for 18 weeks because it means shouldering an increasing amount of risk that should be borne by the governments themselves.
But the premium that Rome and Madrid must pay to borrow funds compared with benchmark German bonds has now leapt to its highest level in 14 years, and the eurozone does not have the money to bail them out as well. Related article: Rome vows to boost growth
European Union leaders had hoped an emergency summit last month that set up the second bail-out for Greece would calm markets, but investors made it clear after just a few days that they still expect at least one, if not three or more eurozone members to default on their debts.
Although Italy approved a 47.9 billion euro ($68.6 billion) fiscal consolidation package last month to improve its finances, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi pledged on Wedesday an action plan to boost the country's anaemic growth.
The country grew by just 0.1 percent in the first quarter of this year.
Meanwhile, analysts who expect the bank to keep its benchmark lending rate at 1.50 percent are waiting to see whether the ECB will signal another interest rate hike this year.
In London, the Bank of England is tipped to maintain its main rate at 0.50 percent amid weak economic growth.
The ECB faces a situation that has deteriorated sharply since a rate-setting meeting on July 7 when President Jean-Claude Trichet implied the governing council might approve another increase this year to curb inflation now running at 2.5 percent.
A eurozone purchasing managers index has shown that previously robust core eurozone economies are slowing rapidly.
Markets will also be watching carefully on Thursday to see what interest rates Spain has to pay to raise 2.5-3.5 billion euros ($3.6-5.0 billion) in a bond auction.