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SMEs, a difficult growth for Italian businesses

Dragonetti: «The growth has lost part of its momentum».

«New processes must be implemented in capital raising»

Milan, 23 January 2020 – Italian SMEs are solid, though they need a further support to start a changing process that will help them grow. This is, in brief, the opinion of Alessandro Dragonetti, Managing partner and Head of Tax at Bernoni Grant Thornton, who participated in “Industria Felix - La Lombardia che compete”, during the presentation of the research carried out by Cerved study center concerning the analysis of 32 thousand 2018 financial statements of companies in Lombardy having a turnover higher than 2 million Euros, in front of the most performing businesses in Lombardy region.

Data contained in the new Cerved Report show that in 2018 and in the first part of 2019, the recovery of SMEs lost part of its momentum, at least with regard to turnover and profits. «In 2018, turnover – commented Alessandro Dragonetti during his speech – grew by 4.1% in nominal terms, but it remained substantially at 2017 levels in real terms.

Most of all, net profitability of such enterprises has declined (from 11.7% in 2017 to 11% in 2018) for the first time since 2013 and this is a slight warning bell, also considering that this figure, according to Cerved, could further decrease over the next years».

A positive element – according to Cerved data – which counterbalaces this decline is the solidity of Italian SMEs. In fact, more than one SME out of two do not resort to third parties’ capital and make small investments, maintaining a high liquidity available. This reflects in a strengthening of shareholders’ equity and, subsequently, in a higher financial independence compared to the past.

In particular, the weight of financial debts in relation to net equity decreased in 2018. And, in fact, thanks to such an availability of internal resources, investment of SMEs (particularly, of manufacturing SMEs) registered a strong increase in 2018 (7.1% of tangible fixed assets, compared to 6.4% of previous year).

«This positive datum – added Dragonetti – is still too low and most of the times, the considerable cash flow available for businesses is prudentially kept in the organization and this indicates a high uncertainty and a prudential approach, which do not favour the development of SMEs».

«Among the elements that hinder a proper growth of SMEs – added Dragonetti – I would select two.

The first one is a too low distinction between ownership and management: in fact, 66.6% of Italian SMEs is family-owned – compared to 28% of German companies, 35.5% of Spanish companies, and 10.4% of English ones. The second one is a closure – which I would define as partially ‘cultural’ – towards the use of third parties’ capital».

«Italian SMEs – concluded Alessandro Dragonetti – remain however one of the most solid sectors of the Italian economy, proving that they are able to adapt also to the most complex situations, evolving with flexibility and dynamism».

«To support a further growth of SMEs, we need to implement new capital raising processes, create more structured governance systems, make higher investments in R&D, and favour business combination and internationalization processes, which are crucial in the current global economic context».