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By Philip Pullella
VATICAN CITY, Jan 8 (Reuters) - The ubiquitous term "spread"
- a staple of financial news bulletins and one of the main
measures of investor sentiment - has now penetrated even the
elevated lexicon of the papacy.
In his speech to diplomats from around the world, Pope
Benedict chastised those who only think of a "spread" in
financial terms. He said there should be a simultaneous concern
for a social "spread" - the gap between the rich and poor.
"If the differential index between financial taxes
represents a source of concern, the increasing differences
between those few who grow ever richer and the many who grow
hopelessly poorer, should be a cause for dismay," the pope told
the diplomats in his speech at the Vatican on Monday.
"In a word, it is a question of refusing to be resigned to a
'spread' in social well-being, while at the same time
fighting one in the financial sector," he said.
During the financial crisis facing Italy for more than a
year, hardly a week has passed without a news report about the
see-sawing spread - the risk premium investors demand to hold
Italian bonds rather than their safer German equivalents.
The higher the spread, the greater interest payments are for
Italy to finance its public debt. The spread was at 574 basis
points about 14 months ago when Prime Minister Mario Monti took
office, and is now at about 279 basis points.
But in the part of his speech that centred on financial
issues - most of the address was dedicated to hot spots such as
Syria - the pope said politicians had to consider people as well
"Certainly, if justice is to be achieved, good economic
models, however necessary, are not sufficient. Justice is
achieved only when people are just," he said.
As far as the spread is concerned, Benedict, a world-class
theologian who by his own admission is not good with numbers, is
only the latest person to be unexpectedly touched by the S-word.
Last month Monti told a television interviewer that talk of
bond spreads had filtered down from the power lunches of bankers
and brokers all the way to his grandson's kindergarten.
"The youngest of my daughter's three children was home and
saw a news programme on television and they were talking about
the spread," Monti said. "And he said 'Mamma, but I'm Spread'".
It seems the word has become so much a part of the common
lexicon that his schoolmates gave him the nickname "Spread".
(Reporting By Philip Pullella, editing by Paul Casciato)