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The markets are concerned about the Italian economy – a crisis of confidence hits enterprises and the weaker sectors

“Democracy and markets share a principle of equality and all strive to implement it.” Words by Martin Wolf, respected columnist of the Financial Times, and also one of the key messages delivered by Italian President Sergio Mattarella at the annual Assembly of entrepreneurial association Confindustria held in mid-September (and mentioned in last week’s blog post). A message meant to highlight – with reference to the Italian Constitution – the important function that corporate values and responsibilities fulfils in promoting employment, well-being and wealth, as well as their essential role as part of a social capital in which competitiveness blends with solidarity, and productivity with fostering and social inclusion.

Markets and confidence; long-term relationships; institutions able to guarantee such confidence and boost trade without engendering excessive inequality, misinformation and a strong imbalance between those who can stay abreast with the economic situation and those who have to deal with its consequences. No interventionism or economic sovereignty, nor “plundering financial practices” or a scramble for profit to the detriment of job security.

There is, indeed, a strong bond between individual entrepreneurship and a sense of belonging to a community and, as the best 20th-century economic writings (those that inspired the Italian Constitution) teach us, economic development, welfare and democracy are mutually related. Severing these ties would stunt growth, negatively affect the social balance and, ultimately, shatter the social pact on which liberal democracy – and its virtuous blend of rights and duties – is founded.

The future depicted by Mattarella, as he referred to the wise and forward-looking teachings of Neapolitan Enlightenment philosophy, is based on the civic economy (which encompasses enterprises and the market, and embodies a community and civic spirit). A type of economy that can also be termed “circular”, “fair” and “sustainable”, informed by liberal values, social Catholic thought and socialist reformism – the great idealistic and political currents that run through the Italian Constitution.

Let’s look at the market, then – a market that needs to be properly managed as an open and well-regulated physical and virtual space, that must be transparent and accessible, and kept in check and guaranteed by sanctions punishing those who break its rules. A market whose foundations are built on a value that cannot be weakened, to avoid endangering the market itself: the value of confidence. Confidence of investors and savers and mutual confidence between financial players. Confidence between operators and the public authorities stipulating investment conditions and policies and their related monitoring practices. Confidence in the information on which we base our decisions.

Our businesses are well aware of all this, as their survival depends from the European and international markets. They need open and efficient markets to sell their goods in niches with higher added value (i.e. where confidence is even more essential). Indeed, they recover capital and invest in international companies on the markets, and they know full well that jeopardising confidence in the markets means they will end up in a severely enfeebled position before an increasingly tougher, selective and stricter competition.

Unfortunately, over the past few weeks, there’s been talk of a crisis of confidence affecting Italy. Last week, the Financial Times voiced the concerns of international investors, criticising the amendments implemented as part of the Capital Markets decree that could alter the dynamics between companies’ majority and minority shareholders, undermining their governance. Further reprimands were directed towards governmental policies on non-performing loans, seen as “distorting the capital market” (according to the Center of European Law and Finance), and banks heavily complained about taxes on so-called ‘extra profits’, forcing the government to backpedal on such measure, which nonetheless left a level of doubt that can’t be good for the market.

Spread performance of Italian and German public bonds (also as compared to Greek bonds, better regarded and therefore cheaper) is further proof of this state of affairs – “Lack of confidence in Italy” headlines La Stampa (21 September). Newspaper diatribes aside, it’s clear that the increasingly confusing choices of a government that keeps on arguing with the EU, persists in refusing to sign off ESM policies, talks about postponing the reforms of the Stability and Growth Pact, and whose economic transactions (see ITA, TIM, and so on) remain fragile, is raising more criticism and fears rather than generating long-term security in the financial markets. Moreover, uncertain policy makers represent one of the most common concerns on the markets, warding off investors that might otherwise show an interest in our country.

And if we’re looking for more authoritative evidence, the remark made by Robert ShillerYale professor and 2013 Nobel Prize winner in economics – deftly outlines the situation: “International investors are disappointed. Too much improvisation” (la Repubblica, 24 September). And he goes on to assert, looking across the political board, “Populism, whether from the right or the left, means the very opposite of what it sounds like: it is the disease of a country that does not believe in itself and of a political class that has given up governing it with a precise strategy, falling back onto extemporaneous or illogical measures instead. The result is an erratic narrative that does not lead to growth.”

Basically, we need to pay heed to the international markets, especially in a country like Italy, which needs to build up confidence abroad in order to sell its goods (our growth heavily depends on export) as well as to raise the resources needed to finance its own very high public debt, and, of course, to attract qualifying investments to support enterprises that will generate development, employment and wealth.

Talking about the markets, there’s another trend we should keep an eye on: a trend where market players counter the international financial markets with “local markets”, that is, “profiteers” like banks, stock exchanges and the people themselves. Several years ago, in 1994, Clemente Mastella – a generally polemical politician and Minister of Labour during Berlusconi’s first government – proclaimed, “Some only wanted to focus on the international markets, of which we all talk about yet have no idea where they actually are. I also looked at local markets, so I can reassure the elderly that their pensions are safe.”

Over time, ministers and government representatives from both the centre-right and the centre-left emulated Mastella.

Yet, although “We support local markets, not the financial ones” makes for a good slogan on social media or TV debates, it doesn’t reflect the truth and actually damages precisely those involved in “the local markets”.

In fact, the performance of purchasing power and pensions is also dependent on the value of money (affected by the spread), on inflation, and on rates of economic growth heavily swayed by international investments, which in turn influence widespread wealth, too – in short, it all depends on the confidence levels steering the markets – all markets, from international to local markets, one after the other.

We should therefore learn to understand and respect the markets, as what’s at risk is the health of our economy as well as the quality of life of our community.

(Photo: Getty Images)

“Democracy and markets share a principle of equality and all strive to implement it.” Words by Martin Wolf, respected columnist of the Financial Times, and also one of the key messages delivered by Italian President Sergio Mattarella at the annual Assembly of entrepreneurial association Confindustria held in mid-September (and mentioned in last week’s blog post). A message meant to highlight – with reference to the Italian Constitution – the important function that corporate values and responsibilities fulfils in promoting employment, well-being and wealth, as well as their essential role as part of a social capital in which competitiveness blends with solidarity, and productivity with fostering and social inclusion.

Markets and confidence; long-term relationships; institutions able to guarantee such confidence and boost trade without engendering excessive inequality, misinformation and a strong imbalance between those who can stay abreast with the economic situation and those who have to deal with its consequences. No interventionism or economic sovereignty, nor “plundering financial practices” or a scramble for profit to the detriment of job security.

There is, indeed, a strong bond between individual entrepreneurship and a sense of belonging to a community and, as the best 20th-century economic writings (those that inspired the Italian Constitution) teach us, economic development, welfare and democracy are mutually related. Severing these ties would stunt growth, negatively affect the social balance and, ultimately, shatter the social pact on which liberal democracy – and its virtuous blend of rights and duties – is founded.

The future depicted by Mattarella, as he referred to the wise and forward-looking teachings of Neapolitan Enlightenment philosophy, is based on the civic economy (which encompasses enterprises and the market, and embodies a community and civic spirit). A type of economy that can also be termed “circular”, “fair” and “sustainable”, informed by liberal values, social Catholic thought and socialist reformism – the great idealistic and political currents that run through the Italian Constitution.

Let’s look at the market, then – a market that needs to be properly managed as an open and well-regulated physical and virtual space, that must be transparent and accessible, and kept in check and guaranteed by sanctions punishing those who break its rules. A market whose foundations are built on a value that cannot be weakened, to avoid endangering the market itself: the value of confidence. Confidence of investors and savers and mutual confidence between financial players. Confidence between operators and the public authorities stipulating investment conditions and policies and their related monitoring practices. Confidence in the information on which we base our decisions.

Our businesses are well aware of all this, as their survival depends from the European and international markets. They need open and efficient markets to sell their goods in niches with higher added value (i.e. where confidence is even more essential). Indeed, they recover capital and invest in international companies on the markets, and they know full well that jeopardising confidence in the markets means they will end up in a severely enfeebled position before an increasingly tougher, selective and stricter competition.

Unfortunately, over the past few weeks, there’s been talk of a crisis of confidence affecting Italy. Last week, the Financial Times voiced the concerns of international investors, criticising the amendments implemented as part of the Capital Markets decree that could alter the dynamics between companies’ majority and minority shareholders, undermining their governance. Further reprimands were directed towards governmental policies on non-performing loans, seen as “distorting the capital market” (according to the Center of European Law and Finance), and banks heavily complained about taxes on so-called ‘extra profits’, forcing the government to backpedal on such measure, which nonetheless left a level of doubt that can’t be good for the market.

Spread performance of Italian and German public bonds (also as compared to Greek bonds, better regarded and therefore cheaper) is further proof of this state of affairs – “Lack of confidence in Italy” headlines La Stampa (21 September). Newspaper diatribes aside, it’s clear that the increasingly confusing choices of a government that keeps on arguing with the EU, persists in refusing to sign off ESM policies, talks about postponing the reforms of the Stability and Growth Pact, and whose economic transactions (see ITA, TIM, and so on) remain fragile, is raising more criticism and fears rather than generating long-term security in the financial markets. Moreover, uncertain policy makers represent one of the most common concerns on the markets, warding off investors that might otherwise show an interest in our country.

And if we’re looking for more authoritative evidence, the remark made by Robert ShillerYale professor and 2013 Nobel Prize winner in economics – deftly outlines the situation: “International investors are disappointed. Too much improvisation” (la Repubblica, 24 September). And he goes on to assert, looking across the political board, “Populism, whether from the right or the left, means the very opposite of what it sounds like: it is the disease of a country that does not believe in itself and of a political class that has given up governing it with a precise strategy, falling back onto extemporaneous or illogical measures instead. The result is an erratic narrative that does not lead to growth.”

Basically, we need to pay heed to the international markets, especially in a country like Italy, which needs to build up confidence abroad in order to sell its goods (our growth heavily depends on export) as well as to raise the resources needed to finance its own very high public debt, and, of course, to attract qualifying investments to support enterprises that will generate development, employment and wealth.

Talking about the markets, there’s another trend we should keep an eye on: a trend where market players counter the international financial markets with “local markets”, that is, “profiteers” like banks, stock exchanges and the people themselves. Several years ago, in 1994, Clemente Mastella – a generally polemical politician and Minister of Labour during Berlusconi’s first government – proclaimed, “Some only wanted to focus on the international markets, of which we all talk about yet have no idea where they actually are. I also looked at local markets, so I can reassure the elderly that their pensions are safe.”

Over time, ministers and government representatives from both the centre-right and the centre-left emulated Mastella.

Yet, although “We support local markets, not the financial ones” makes for a good slogan on social media or TV debates, it doesn’t reflect the truth and actually damages precisely those involved in “the local markets”.

In fact, the performance of purchasing power and pensions is also dependent on the value of money (affected by the spread), on inflation, and on rates of economic growth heavily swayed by international investments, which in turn influence widespread wealth, too – in short, it all depends on the confidence levels steering the markets – all markets, from international to local markets, one after the other.

We should therefore learn to understand and respect the markets, as what’s at risk is the health of our economy as well as the quality of life of our community.

(Photo: Getty Images)