World Economy

Italy on Sale to Chinese Investors

Italy on Sale to Chinese InvestorsItaly on Sale to Chinese Investors

Clotilde Narzisi and Luca Soliman have run the Caffe Orefici, 200 feet from Milan’s iconic Duomo Cathedral, for 10 years. Forced to sell their business because of high taxes, they say their only hope now is to leave it in Chinese hands.

“They are the only ones who are buying,” said Narzisi. “We want to sell, taxes are too high; we work eight hours a day for the state and one hour for us.”

An Italian website helps Italians, stricken by the third recession in six years, attract bids for properties, products and services from Chinese suitors.

While Italian stores turn to the local Chinese community, the country’s largest companies are seeking investments directly from the Asian giant. Italy has been China’s biggest target in Europe after the UK this year, with cross-border acquisitions for $3.43 billion, according to Bloomberg available data.

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, who’s struggling to cut Europe’s second-biggest debt of more than 2 trillion euros ($2.53 trillion), urged Chinese investors in June during a Beijing visit to buy stakes in Italian companies, following his counterparts in Greece and Portugal who tapped Chinese money to raise revenue and exit bailout programs.

 Record Unemployment

While unemployment near a record of 12.7 percent and fiscal burden at an all-time high, make it difficult for Italians to access credit, the 321,000 Chinese living in the country are better positioned as they can count on family networks rather than banks for financing, said Toppino, who’s from the northwestern town of Alba.

Renzi flew to China in June with a delegation of dozens of Italian companies to help broker deals. A few weeks later, Italy’s state lender announced the sale of a stake in energy grids holding company CDP Reti SpA to State Grid Corp. of China for 2.1 billion euros.

People’s Bank of China in July disclosed stakes in some of Italy’s biggest companies, Fiat SpA (F), Telecom Italia SpA (TIT) and Assicurazioni Generali SpA (G), adding to investments in Eni SpA (ENI) and Enel SpA (ENEL) in March for a total of 3.04 billion euros.

Renzi’s government is considering selling stakes in energy companies Eni and Enel after other planned asset sales were delayed.

More than 90 Chinese groups, excluding Hong Kong, had a stake in Italian firms at the end of 2013, up almost 20 percent, according to the Milan-based Italy-China Foundation, which promotes business among the two countries.

Direct Chinese investments in the euro area have almost quadrupled between 2006 and 2012, the latest year for which data are available, while portfolio investments rose 60 percent, according to data from the European Central Bank.