(Adds data on Chinese investments, comments)
By Lisa Jucca
MILAN Aug 8 Unfazed by Italy's gloomier
economic outlook, China's cash-rich central bank is snapping up
stakes in high-profile Italian companies and has invested around
3 billion euros in blue-chip firms as it seeks to diversify
beyond government debt.
Filings from stock market watchdog Consob showed on Friday
that the People's Bank of China now owns 2.014 percent of
Generali, Italy's biggest insurer and Europe's
third-largest sector player by market capitalisation. The stake
is worth 471 million euros at current market prices.
The purchase comes in spite of quarterly economic data that
showed Italy had slipped back into a recession and that sparked
a sell-off in domestic stocks and bonds earlier this week.
Filings released on Monday revealed the Chinese central bank
had also acquired stakes of around two percent in Italy's
biggest carmaker Fiat, top domestic telecoms operator
Telecom Italia and Prysmian, the world's
In March, the central bank had bought similar stakes in
leading oil and gas operator Eni - an investment worth
1.3 billion euros - and domestic utility giant Enel.
"Rather than sticking to low-yielding Italian government
bonds, the Chinese are looking to diversify their investments,
with a focus on high-profile companies with global footprint,"
said Marco Valli, Chief Eurozone Economist at UniCredit.
Contrary to other Asian central banks, the People Bank's of
China had continued to invest in Italian state debt - albeit at
shorter maturities - even at the peak of the euro zone crisis.
But a fall in Italian government bond yields to record lows
earlier this year has made these assets less attractive.
It was not immediately possible to contact the People's Bank
of China for more details about its Italian investments.
Italian companies have been the target of 35 deals or
acquisitions since 2009, nearly 10 percent of all Chinese
transactions with European companies over the past five years,
according to Rothschild data.
These purchases, which involve a number of Chinese players,
have increasingly grown in size and importance.
In one of the biggest deals this year, Italy's state lender
Cassa Depositi e Prestiti last month entered an agreement with
China's State Grid to sell a 35 percent of energy grid holding
company CDP Reti for at least 2.1 billion euros ($2.8 billion).
In May, Shanghai Electric Group agreed to buy a
40 percent stake in power engineering company Ansaldo Energia
from Italian state fund FSI in a deal worth 400 million euros
"Italy is currently an attractive investment centre," said
Alessandro Daffina, Chief Executive Officer of Rothschild Italy.
"Chinese investors see it as an ideal gateway to the
European market. They also value Italy's reputation, expertise
and the quality of its products in sectors ranging from luxury
goods to technology, " said Daffina, who was one of the adviser
on the Ansaldo Energia deal.
Yet, Italy still lags other European countries in terms of
According to Rothschild data, of the some 50 billion euros
that Chinese companies have invested in Europe over the past
five year, nearly a quarter went to Britain alone, with Italy
representing only 8 percent of total Chinese investments.
(Reporting by Lisa Jucca, editing by David Evans)