The IT spending capacity of SMEs in Italy remains subdued. This may be a consequence of still restricted access to bank loans for smaller businesses.
- The modest rebound is expected to continue
- SME investments into IT still low
- Payments take between 60 and 90 days on average
The ICT sector accounts for 1.6% of the Italian economy, with approximately 75,000 companies and 460,000 employees. In 2013 and 2014, ICT sales contracted as the Italian economy was in recession and public as well as private spending decreased. In line with the modest GDP rebound in 2015 (up 0.8%), the Italian ICT market grew 1.0% to EUR 64.9 billion in 2015, according to the industry association Assinform. All subsectors contributed positively, with the exception of the telecommunications network services, which decreased 2.4% due to a decline in prices. Voice data centres and cloud computing (up 28.7% to EUR 1.2 billion) and the Internet of Things (up 13.9% to EUR 1.8 billion) recorded the highest growth rates. In 2016, ICT sales are expected to increase further, by 1.5%.
In the business-to-business segment, it is mainly larger companies that are investing in IT, accounting for more than 60% of the total domestic IT expenses. That said, the IT spending capacity of SMEs remains subdued, a consequence of still restricted access to bank loans for smaller businesses and lack of resources. This also seriously limits SME investments into cloud computing. The consumer segment could be positively influenced by the diffusion of new appealing ICT devices and the growing importance of e-commerce business, which is still at an early stage in Italy compared to other European countries.
Some of the main domestic IT distributors have started to introduce their own brand products (tablets/smartphones) in the market in order to increase margins and counter the fierce competition in the ICT retail and distribution segments. However, in most ICT segments margins have improved over the last 12 months. Payments in the ICT sector generally take 60-90 days, payment experience has been good so far and the level of notified non-payments is low. ICT insolvencies decreased over the last six months, and are expected to level off in the coming months. Overall, the amount of business failures is rather low compared to other Italian industries.
Our underwriting approach remains generally open for ICT, especially for providers of value added IT services with growing market opportunities (network infrastructures, cloud computing) and large wholesalers of IT equipment and software. However, smaller players have to be monitored more closely, as they are more exposed to financial distress related to working capital requirements, especially when depending on large clients and the public sector. Mainly smaller ICT equipment retailers will remain under pressure due to price competition (especially with e-commerce) and slim margins.