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Italian Business Leaders Argue Over Election Aftermath

Friday, 22 Feb 2013 | 9:18 AM ET
Italy is in 'Safe Zone': CEO of Borsa Italiana
Raffaele Jerusalmi, CEO of Borsa Italiana, says Italy is in a 'safe zone', even if elections are uncertain.

As the public prepares to go to the polls this weekend, Italian executives disagree over the impact the outcome could have on a country already struggling with debt and a lack of investor confidence.

Raffaele Jerusalmi, chief executive of the Borsa Italiana, told CNBC that he remained optimistic that whatever Sunday's election result, Italy's recovery won't be derailed.

"Whatever the outcome of the election there is not going to be many problems - even if the election result is uncertain," Jerusalmi said on Thursday.

"The government we had under Monti was able to improve controls on public finances, and the public debt [picture], so I think we are now in a safe zone."

Market and political analysts were less sanguine, however, saying the leadership race has changed over the last few weeks of campaigning and there is now a possibility of a hung parliament and re-elections within 12 months.

In polls conducted before an official blackout began on February 9, center-left candidate Pier Luigi Bersani was front-runner, followed by the center-right coalition led by Silvio Berlusconi. Comedian Beppe Grillo's "protest vote" movement was in third place and Mario Monti's centrist bloc was in fourth, with five million Italians undecided.

However, in the last couple of weeks, unofficial polls have revealed that public support for Grillo's anti-Europe, anti-austerity "5 Star Movement" (M5S) has increased dramatically and Grillo could overtake Berlusconi in the polls.

(Find out more in CNBC's Slideshow: Italy's Election: Tycoon, Clown or Professor)

If this is borne out in the public vote, pro-reform candidate Bersani might be unable to form a coalition government with Mario Monti, which markets see as the best-case scenario for progress and continuity on reform measures.In the case of a hung parliament, parties with incompatible policies could also be forced to compromise and form a coalition.

Michele Raucci, chairman of private equity firm Sixiang Holding, told CNBC it was difficult to predict how long this process might last, taking "15 days or six months".

"The political situation is creating [a bad] perception on what is going to happen [to the economy]," he added.

Raucci said investor interest in Italy had already been hit in December, "as the Monti government [appeared] to be over."

"Everything stopped. The perception was that there is no longer any confidence in the market."

Investor and voter confidence have also been hit by several high-profile financial scandals in Italy, such as the loss-making derivative and structured finance trades, and alleged fraud and bribery, at the Monte Dei Paschi di Siena bank.

However, Borsa Italiana chief Jerusalmi dismissed the effect of the scandals on investor sentiment.

"Monte dei Paschi di Siena is not an issue," he said. "It's an issue that belongs to the past…it's nothing new, apparently it's the management or the result of wrong strategic choices, this has happened everywhere in the world, in Italy and everywhere."

The yield on Italy's benchmark 10-year bond rose five basis points to 4.475 percent on Thursday, reflecting investor nervousness.

More Reform to Help Businesses

Jerusalmi said the next government will have to work on further reform measures, and improve operating conditions for SMEs (small and medium sized enterprises) and other corporates to operate. "There are also tax issues that need to be fixed," he added.

He predicted more privatizations in Italy in the near future, and said the country's next government should put public assets, such as real estate, on sale to reduce Italy's debt burden. This is a move that Beppe Grillo's M5S party has endorsed.

The Bank of Italy estimates Italy's debt burden at 2 trillion euros ($2.6 trillion) or 127 percent of gross domestic product.

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