Europe Economy

Italian companies implode amid government turmoil

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Trouble at the top in Italy is not confined to its politicians.

Boardroom battles over the weekend saw Intesa Sanpaolo, the country's second-biggest bank, oust chief executive Enrico Cucchiani over the weekend. Telecom Italia boss Franco Bernabe could also resign this week at a board meeting planned for Thursday, according to reports by Reuters and Bloomberg.

This would leave two of the biggest companies in the country with new chief executives within days.

The FTSE MIB, Italy's benchmark stock market index, fell by more than 400 points, losing over 2 percent of its value, within minutes of trading opening Monday morning, a clear sign that traders are losing faith in Italian businesses and politicians. Intesa Sanpaolo, and carmaker Fiat were among the biggest losers. Telecom Italia kicked against the trend, as speculation about new management grew.

Others, including banks Mediobanca, UBI and Banca Monte dei Paschi were suspended from trading on the Borsa Italiana after tumbling at the market open.

Traditionally, Italy's corporate sector – focused in the north of the country and specializing in food, cars and luxury goods -- has helped boost the country's economy despite its turbulent politics.

Yet when Italy's tumultuous politics come back into focus, as they did over the weekend, businesses felt vulnerable. Ex-Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has forced a confidence vote in the government after ministers from his People of Liberty (PdL) party resigned from the cabinet.

(Read more: Italy faces new elections)

Italy's political turmoil, with three different governments in as many years, has made it difficult for the necessary decisions to be taken.

"The fragile political situation in Italy has contributed to some budget slippage there," according to Ben May, European economist at Capital Economics.

There are concerns in the marketplace about the broader Italian economy and how it may affect the banks in particular.

(Read more: Italy spoiling markets' calm)

"The problem is, the returns Italian banks make are very low. I don't have the confidence that they will make sufficient returns in the long-term," Kevin Lilley, fund manager for Old Mutual Global Investors, told CNBC. Lilley's fund invests in Italian oil and gas company ENI.

"There are too many banks and there are inefficiencies in the banking system."

There are some investors who are eying Italian bonds as the spread on them widens.

Anne Lester, portfolio manager at JPMorgan Asset Management, told CNBC that her fund had been buying Spain and Italy, because she believes the "put" (propping up) from the central bank is "meaningful."

- By CNBC's Catherine Boyle. Twitter: @cboylecnbc.