31 July 2023
Italy is emerging from Europe’s energy crisis in a stronger economic and fiscal position than many analysts anticipated. The country – the eurozone’s third largest economy1 and exporter2 – notched up economic growth of 3.7 per cent in 2022,3 despite being exposed to rocketing energy prices and inflation.
Growth, however, is expected to slow this year, as the effects of interest rate rises by the European Central Bank aimed at curbing inflation across the eurozone, and the phasing out of COVID-era expansionary policies, take hold. Key to realising Italy’s long-term growth and productivity goals is investment in modernising and expanding the country’s infrastructure to generate both direct and indirect economic activity.
Almost €200 billion4 of the EU’s post-COVID recovery plan will also support this, including a programme of reform and investment in areas including decarbonisation, digitalisation and transport infrastructure. With one of the largest infrastructure investment gaps in Europe,5 however, additional investment capital will be required from the private sector, as well as its global expertise and access to knowledge and innovation.
Macquarie has been investing in Italy for 20 years – advising clients, supporting commodities trading, deploying capital and investing in transport, digital and energy infrastructure – and is well-positioned to help strengthen the country’s economy.
“There is plenty of capital ready to be deployed here in Italy, which has a strong appeal amongst both domestic and international institutional investors,” says Roberto Purcaro, Senior Managing Director at Macquarie Capital in Milan.
“Investors recognise the opportunities for investment in digital infrastructure to bring Italy’s connectivity up to par with its economic competitors, and they stand ready to help fund improvements in its transport infrastructure to underpin the country’s growing role as a European gateway. They also recognise the enormous potential in developing the renewable energy sources that will help Italy reduce its dependence on imported gas and reach its target of climate neutrality by 2050,” he adds.
This year, Macquarie established a permanent presence in Italy marking the 20th anniversary. The office is primely located on Via Negri, above the Galleria Meravigli and near Piazza Affari and the Duomo, in the heart of Milan – the country’s industrial and financial capital. This commitment reflects Macquarie’s growing business in Italy, and desire to provide Italian clients with greater access to its investment, advisory and commodities trading expertise.
Macquarie’s EMEA CEO, Paul Plewman, highlights, “over the past two decades, our team in Italy has developed deep relationships with local clients and stakeholders. With a growing team and activity levels increasing, Italy is now a key growth market for Macquarie – requiring a permanent home from which we can continue to grow over the years ahead.”
The office brings together Macquarie’s growing team of Italian market specialists covering investment, asset management, advisory and capital raising for our Italian clients and projects – and underlines its deepening commitment to Italy.
Recent local government reforms promise to speed up the rollout of reliable, high-speed broadband to businesses and households that have, thus far, been unable to harness the opportunities presented by next-generation digital infrastructure.
Macquarie is actively supporting investment in this critical upgrade to the nation’s digitalisation capabilities. In 2021, Macquarie Asset Management-managed funds acquired 40 per cent of Open Fiber, which operates Italy’s largest fibre-to-premises (FTTP) network and serves around 15 million households and businesses.6
“We see real opportunity in businesses such as Open Fiber, which will deliver the next generation of Italy’s digital infrastructure,” says Gianluca Ricci, Milan-based Division Director in Macquarie Asset Management. “Our focus is to provide the capital that will enable businesses and households to access reliable, ultra-fast broadband and tap into the opportunities presented by a more connected society and economy.”
Macquarie Capital has invested in FibreConnect, an independent specialist developer that builds fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) networks for business customers. Partnering with regional and national internet service providers, FibreConnect targets industrial areas which are currently unserved by existing FTTP infrastructure, bringing the advantages of high-speed connectivity to small and medium-sized enterprises. This investment supports the Italian government’s ‘Transition 4.0’ plan, which seeks to promote the digital transformation of manufacturing processes.
FibreConnect is also committed to delivering social impact in trialling a highly specialised vocational training to facilitate a seamless integration of former inmates into the workforce and society. During the training, fibre optic cable joints are to be produced – a crucial component in the development of ultrabroadband networks across Europe – providing skills that are in high demand to Italians who would traditionally face difficulties into employment.
“Italy’s digital infrastructure sector is very attractive, as it represents a huge opportunity for the country to close the digitalisation and connectivity gap with its European peers. We see great potential in further developing this area,” Purcaro adds.
More traditional infrastructure, meanwhile, is also ripe for investment and development, adds Ricci. “Our first investment in Italy was in Aeroporti di Roma, in 2003. Since then, we’ve invested to further enhance transport infrastructure across the country.”
In its most recent transaction in the sector, Macquarie Asset Management participated in a consortium to acquire a majority stake in Autostrade per I’Italia (ASPI) in 2021, one of Europe’s largest toll road operators, which manages more than 3,000 kilometres of roads across Italy.
The investment aims to improve the efficiency of ASPI’s maintenance programmes and enable the digitalisation of its network. In 2022, a total of €1.8bn was invested the during the first year of ownership for network development and modernisation. This has helped ASPI reduce the accident frequency at work, developed a plan to net zero emissions and rolled out FreetoX charging points on the service areas of the network to support diffusion of electric vehicles.7
Italy has not been immune to Europe’s energy challenges due to its high dependence on imported natural gas. But the crisis has also served to redouble the country’s efforts to provide price risk management solutions and develop green energy, and capitalise on the contribution that domestically generated renewable energy sources can make to its long-term energy security goals.
Macquarie brings specialist expertise when it comes to investing in the energy transition. For two decades we have worked in close partnerships with stakeholders in the public and private sectors to support the energy transition and advance practical climate solutions.
Energy security is critical to the support Macquarie’s Commodities and Global Markets business are providing their clients in Italy. “We’ve been helping clients navigate challenges during energy crisis due to reduced gas deliveries from Russia, by offering price risk management, credit and capital solutions, and playing an important role in the gas and power market in the country,” adds the business’s EMEA Head of Origination Gas & Power, Branko Pribicevic.
Renewable energy and emerging technologies are also key to the countries transition. “We have been supporting local solar power generation through our European solar platform Cero Generation. Cero is currently developing several projects across Italy, with a pipeline of 1.6 gigawatts of capacity – enough to power the equivalent of almost half a million households,”8 Ricci comments.
Macquarie Asset Management is also exploring emerging renewable technologies. Through its investment in Vorn Bioenergy, Macquarie is seeking to provide a reliable source of biomethane to local energy companies and industry. Its portfolio comprises a pipeline of development projects located across Italy.
“We are excited about the potential that the Italian economy offers for our clients, for our investors and for the Italian people,” concludes Purcaro. “By establishing a permanent presence in Milan, we will be better able to meet their needs and help participate in the further development of the country’s infrastructure and energy system.”
Macquarie’s three global operating businesses are offering their services to clients in Italy: