>>>ANSA/ China investing in Italy ahead of Expo 2015

Stakes in major listed companies for geopolitical reasons

22 August, 14:15

    (by Fabio Tamburini) (ANSA) - Rome, August 22 - An official visit by Chinese president and Communist party chief Xi Jinping has been confirmed, and he will be in Italy in mid-October to take part in the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) alongside 27 EU states and 15 other Asian ones as China looks to raise investment in the Bel Paese ahead of next year's Expo Milano 2015 world's fair in Milan.

    In recent weeks the People's Bank of China, the country's central bank, has been found to have stakes in Italy's largest listed companies: Generali, Eni, Enel, Prysmian, Telecom and Fiat. Meanwhile, the huge utilities company the State Grid Corporation of China has now acquired 35% of CDP Reti - the parent company of the energy and gas distribution networks Terna and SNAM - while Shanghai Electric has bought a 35% stake in Ansaldo Energia. The threshold to make public a company's presence as a shareholder is 2%, and in all the operations that have come to the public eye the Chinese stake is just over that, implying that they have decided not to keep as low of a profile as they normally do. Chinese companies' interest in Italy has been growing steadily. Since 2012, investment in Italian company capital has risen sharply - beginning with the fashion and nautical industries, as well as real estate, which is rising at the same rate as the opening of branch offices in Italy by major Chinese banks, such as the Bank of China. For the past few years China has also been a significant buyer of Italian public debt, though no reliable official figures are available. The torrent of financial transactions made public shows China's interest in Italy. Underlying geopolitical reasons include the fact that Beijing - after putting down strong roots in continents like Africa - is now opening up new paths for growth at the international level that balance out the pace of domestic development, which is moving forward less rapidly than previously. Europe is now seen as more attractive than before, and Italy clearly seems the most suitable country to test the waters for expansion possibilities: both because the severe economic crisis has opened up the country considerably to capital inflows, and because it is a much opener environment than can be found in France or Germany, for example. It is unclear whether the Chinese moves also aim to break the longstanding alliance between Europe and the US, and to what extent will the 'game' be played on the field of investment in listed companies. Major American funds such as BlackRock have long bought up significant share packages, trusting that the Renzi government will mark a turning point, but the initial enthusiasm seems to be waning, and whether China's recent actions will have an effect remains to be seen. Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi's visit to Beijing in June did not make the front-page news in China but did leave its mark. In his brief visit, Renzi was received with full honors, and many positive references were made to his government's ''reforms that have drawn a great deal of international attention''. At the People's National Assembly in Beijing, Renzi then called on China to invest more in Italy. China's participation in Milan Expo 2015 could consolidate the choices that have been made recently. While the international presence has thus far been a source of concern as the initial enthusiasm lessens, Chinese companies have confirmed the commitments made - and may end up being the country with the largest presence overall, seeing it as an opportunity to gain a greater foothold in Europe. Xi Jinping himself has called the Expo ''a spectacular event, wonderful for the entire world''.

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