Yesterday I spoke at a conference organised by CeTIF in Milan on ‘The Corporate & SME business: evolution between Capital Markets Union and Shadow Banking.’ This gave me the opportunity to reflect on the prospects of a Capital Markets Union and why I think reform presents opportunity for Italy’s future growth, particularly for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
Every business needs to raise finance at some point. How well-capitalised a business is, is a major determinant of whether it succeeds or fails. Italy’s economy, similar to most European economies, is strongly dependent on banks for its financing needs. Yet banks, especially in Italy and other Southern European countries, are reluctant to lend money to SMEs. This is not only because of the risks associated with SME loans; it is also because of the new capital and liquidity requirements placed on banks, and of the burden on banks of non-performing loans, both of which are a legacy of the financial crisis.
The corporate sector, especially in Italy and other southern European markets, is mostly made up of SMEs, for which direct access to capital markets is difficult, if not impossible. If banks are not lending to SMEs and entrepreneurs, how are businesses able to grow and succeed? And in turn, how can Italy’s economy flourish?
Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s government forecasts growth of 1.6% this year, but recent data has been disappointing compared to other European markets and the target may be out of reach.
A positive boost to Italy’s economic health could come in the form of a Capital Markets Union.
Through the creation of a Capital Markets Union, the European Commission aims to break down barriers that are blocking cross-border investments in the European Union to make it easier for companies and infrastructure projects to get the finance they need, regardless of where they are located. This, in turn, would create important new avenues of capital-raising for Italian SMEs.
I read an interesting report recently from a European think tank, which stated that over the past five years, if all the countries with less developed markets had pools of capital that were the same depth as the European average, there would be more than €6 trillion in additional capital from pensions, insurance and retail funds available to invest in the European economy. That’s an astonishing statistic.
Having diversified sources of financing is good for investment and business but I think it is also essential to financial stability, something which is important to everyone around the world. A more resilient financial system, and one which plays an important role in supporting the growth of business, economies and society, will also help our industry’s quest to earn back the public’s trust.
There is no denying that achieving a Capital Markets Union is an ambitious initiative. The obstacles to its success are broad and challenging. It won’t be easy to achieve. But the opportunities successful reform could bring to the real economies of Europe makes the potential pain to get there worthwhile.
At the Rome Investment Forum in December 2015, Salvatore Rossi, Senior Deputy Governor of the Bank of Italy, gave a resounding yes to the question should a Capital Markets Union be a real priority in the European policy agenda. And I concur. Europe needs a modern financial system to fund jobs and growth. The more countries that participate, the greater the benefits, and I think Italy needs to have a seat at the table.