When in Rome . . .

I am in Rome today, which is day three of a weeklong visit to my BvD colleagues and Zephyr users in Italy. I have just been talking with members of the Italian advisory community about Italian M&A activity and the subject that came up was the Italian government’s proposals to restrict the measures available to foreign companies who are attempting to take over Italian companies in what are considered to be key sectors in the Italian economy.

I am told by the people I was speaking to that the Italian press is reporting that the measures would require foreign investors acquiring Italian companies to obtain government approval 60 days in advance. They would also give Italy's bourse regulator Consob equivalent powers to France's AMF to require clarification of potential hostile offers.

These measures are not dissimilar to those employed by the French government and the Italian press believes that this would help avoid too many potential objections from the EU authorities.

Two particular deals seem to have brought things to a head here in Italy. In the last two weeks, Italy’s Parmalat SpA, the Parma-based food group, has been subject to two separate stake building exercises by France’s Lactalis SA. Meanwhile, Bulgari SpA is also subject to a public takeover offer by France’s LVMH SA.

Interestingly, when you look at deals involving Italian target companies over the last five years or so, excluding domestic acquirors, it is France that leads the way in terms of being the most acquisitive buyer of Italian companies by deal value – some €44.6bn worth of deals. This figure is substantially ahead of other acquiring countries.

One has to wonder if, in adopting similar protective measures to France, Italy is not also sending the message of wanting to protect its own key companies from its most acquisitive neighbour.