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Italians feel vulnerable to encroaching poverty. PDF Print E-mail
Dec 22, 2014 at 05:54 PM

Image Even if you live here, it's hard to get a real handle on the effects of the ongoing economic crisis (which only next spring may have a light at the end of the tunnel, at least this is what Confindustria, Italy's national manufacturers association says). On weekends, my garage still gets emptied of cars. Most of the restaurants I have been to of late have been jumping, and with the start of this year's Christmas season, with Christmas lights twinkling everywhere, Rome's Via del Corso has so crowded with potential shoppers (maybe just window shoppers?) that if a Martian were to land he (or she) would find it hard to believe the statistics - unemployment at 13 percent, youth unemployment at over 40% and - over the last four years - a 25% drop in manufacturing. But the statistics are real and the overall mood is a somber or angry one, as the recent protests and scuffles with police would indicate.

 

 

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Italians feel vulnerable to encroaching poverty. PDF Print E-mail
Dec 22, 2014 at 05:24 PM
Even if you live here, it's hard to get a real handle on the effects of the ongoing economic crisis (which only next spring may have a light at the end of the tunnel, at least this is what Confindustria, Italy's national manufacturers association says). On weekends, my garage still gets emptied of cars. Most of the restaurants I have been to of late have been jumping, and with the start of this year's Christmas season, with Christmas lights twinkling everywhere, Rome's Via del Corso has so crowded with potential shoppers (maybe just window shoppers?) that if a Martian were to land he (or she) would find it hard to believe the statistics - unemployment at 13 percent, youth unemployment at over 40% and - over the last four years - a 25% drop in manufacturing. But the statistics are real and the overall mood is a somber or angry one, as recent demonstrations and scuffles with police clearly indicate.

 

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Alitalia’s fate hangs in the balance. PDF Print E-mail
Jul 27, 2014 at 04:11 PM
ImageGovernment officials and Alitalia executives are waiting with bated breath to learn if Italy's flagship airline will survive. The outcome of a rescue operation that has been going on for several months now depends on whether Italy's unions - who are deeply split - agree to conditions for personnel cutbacks set by Etihad, the Abu Dhabi based airline that has made an offer for investments that would give it 49% of the Italian airline.

A majority of union voters approved the agreement in a referendum last week. But since only 27% of the 13,000 with the right to vote actually went to the ballot box, dissenting unions are saying the poll is not valid. On Sunday, Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi said if necessary he would call a meeting with labor organizing to make clear that their choice is between having a couple of thousand Alitalia employees out of work, or all 15,000. Some union leaders have said they will not accept any layoffs at all and want salry cuts to be spread out over a 12-month period.

Alitalia has been losing money hand over foot for the last decade, or more. As a private company, it is not obligated to release its 2013 results, but Italian newspapers have been speculating that losses last year might have been as high as 569 million euros. Etihad, which also controls 30% od Berlin Air and has stakes in several other airlines, has called for a massive debt restructuring along with job cuts that would cut Alitalia's workforce to 11,470 through more than 2,200 job cuts.

In December, the Rome-based carrier secured a €300 million ($408 million) cash injection from shareholders and €200 million in credit lines from banks to stave off insolvency. That transaction diluted to 7%. Air France-KLM's stake from it's previous 20 percent.

It should be remembered that Alitalia's problems could have been solved seven years ago when Air France made an offer to buy a majority stake. That offer was torpedoed by Silvio Berlusconi who, as the country's then prime minister, raised a hue and cry about keeping Alitalia Italian, turned down the offer, and put together an emergency consortium of Italian businesses who had no real interest in the airline and who got out as soon as the five years they had committed to had passed, leaving the airline inmuch worse condition than it was when Air France expressed interest. Another ruinous act of bad government by Berlusconi who naturally has never said he was sorry.

Another concern is that of investor Poste Italiane. Last year, the Italian postal service invested 75 million euros in Alitalia as part of a government engineered 500-million-euro bailout of the country's flag-carrier. But the company is now seeking assurances it will not be stuck with Alitalia's current debt obligation if it further increases its stake.

Keep an eye on (or rather, in) your bill fold. PDF Print E-mail
Jul 21, 2014 at 10:25 PM
Image According to statistics released by the Italian central bank (Banca d'Italia), the number of false euro notes has been increasing rapidly in Italy. During the first six months of this year, the central bank withdrew from circulation more than 74,000 counterfeit banknotes (74,423 to be precise), up 17.2% compared to the first semester of 2013.

Among the banknotes most targeted by counterfeiters are the €20 and €50 notes, although the number of false five euro notes is also rapidly growing.

How to recognize a counterfeit Italian bank note? The European Central Bank has a page that clearly indicates the security features of every euro banknote. And I have also found a video , alas only in Italian, which tells you all that is needed is a bit of scratching.

 But if you find a counterfeit bill, or think you have found one, what are you supposed to do? According to Italian law, it is illegal to use a bill that you know to be false and therefore if you find one in your wallet you are supposed to hand it in to a teller at a bank or a branch of the Italian post office. The problem is that if the bill is discovered t be false, the person who handed it in is out of luck. So the best thing may be not to look to closely and take action only if someone else - a merchant or restaurateur - rejects a bill you have on the grounds that it is counterfeit.



https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yQk0zOVzq5U 

Sari's new MyHomeSweetRome website now online PDF Print E-mail
Jul 03, 2014 at 10:37 PM

Go to www.myhomesweetrome.com and find out more about Rome, about my life in Rome, my friends and neighbors and about all the things that are going on - good and bad - in the Eternal City.

Hold on to your (Italian) house PDF Print E-mail
Jul 03, 2014 at 10:24 PM

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Italy's housing market has been seriously hurt by the ongoing economic crisis here, statistics released today by ISTAT, the national statistics agency, show. The data released indicates that real estate prices have declined by more than 10% over the last four years. Istat said its estimates for the first quarter of 2014 show that property prices are 10.4% down on the same period in 2010.

The agency's report added that newly built homes have been less affected by the economic declinedl than properties that have been lived in, the prices of which were down 15% on 2010. It also saod home prices fell 0.7% in the first quarter of this year with respect to the previous three months and 4.6% when compared to the same period in 2013. Moral of the story. If you don't absolutely have to sell, hold on to your Italian real estate until things get better.

Another shot in the foot? PDF Print E-mail
Jul 01, 2014 at 03:49 PM
ImageThere's a word in Italian, straffare, which basically means to overdo something. And small wonder since there seems to be something in the Italian DNA that makes a happy medium nearly impossible. Either nothing is done about something, or a law is passed that goes overboard.

Example: as of today, Italian businesses, professionals and artisans need to be able (and willing) to accept payment not in cash or by check but by debit card if the client so desires. Fine. Sounds good, right? But no, it's not. First of all, the costs of this transition for all small and medium-sized businesses will be extremely heavy - not exactly what one would want in an economy in which many sectors are at a near standstill. And, even worse, the second part of this provision says that all payments over 30 euros, currently the equivalent of $41.08 MUST be paid by debit or credit card and this is just plain ridiculous.

Italy lags far behind most other European countries in the use of electronic payments - according to one report almost 70% of Italians do not have ANY bank cards. And it is hard to imagine how thousands of older people who have never had any kind of plastic will now have to get a card AND figure out how to use it. It is also hard to fathom how the country's thousands of plumbers, electricians, carpenters and so forth will manage, forced as they will now be to lug Point-Of-Sale card machines around with them as they travel to their customers' houses.

The idea behind this, I imagine, is to find another way of cracking down on tax evasion by small businesses, professionals - doctors, lawyers etc - and the myriad artisans who generally don't even give you a receipt unless you insist on one. In principle, again, this would seem like a good idea. But not only will it further slow the economy but it will allow the government to further broaden its ability to keep track of how you and I are spending our money. But setting the bar at 30 euros is ridiculous.

And guess who will be the major beneficiary? Yup, the banks. All these small and medium sized businesses that currently are not set up for Point of Sale transactions will have to bear the cost of the transition. The Italian association of cafés and restaurants estimates that Italian businesses as a group will now have to bear an additional cost of roughly five billion euros a year.

Wondering if the Tiber will flood PDF Print E-mail
Feb 01, 2014 at 09:54 PM
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Italy's new entrepreneurs PDF Print E-mail
Oct 30, 2012 at 03:26 PM

Image For most Romans (and other Italians as well) the foreign-born and frequently dark-skinned peddlers who sold their wares on beaches or beachside sidewalks were known as "vu compra", a slang way in Italian of saying "do you want to buy?" and a term that for years was used interchangeably with that of immigrant.

But if many of the non-Europeans who began immigrating to Italy in the 1980s and 1990s started out that way, the country's immigrants are now starting to climb up the economic ladder and there's no telling what will come next. The fact is that willy or nilly, this once exaggeratedly homogenous country is now becoming ethnically integrated.

Over the last two decades the complexion of the people one encounters in everyday Italian life has changed, both figuratively and literally. Non European-immigrants work as domestic help, restaurant cooks and waiters, construction workers, truck drivers, delivery workers and so on. But now they are also opening businesses and stores, a clear sign that true integration has gotten underway.

The signs of this change are obvious even in the neighborhood, Trastevere, where I live. On my block, Via della Scala, two jewelry stores are owned by Egyptians, as are two restaurants around the corner. In another direction, there is a small grocery owned and run from a man from Bangladesh which is open everyday until 10 or 11 pm, unlike the nearest Italian-owned grocery. The "cornettaro" the croissant or cornetto maker who supplies two of the cafés where I have my morning coffee is an Indian. And a man from Libya runs the kebab store on the other side of my neighborhood market.

These changes were clearly inevitable in a country where over five percent of the population, nationwide, is now foreign-born, even though the majority of these people - like most Italians - work for others. But the trend is confirmed by a new study by the Rome Chamber of Commerce according to which as of June 1, 2012, some 18.3% of business owners in Rome and the surrounding Rome province are now foreign born immigrants, up from only 16.5% a year earlier.
Of these 32,445 people, one out of four hails from Africa, mostly North Africa, with Moroccans and Egyptians leading the pack followed by Nigerians, Senegalese, Tunisians, Libyans and Algerians, in that order. Of the total, 56% have gone into commerce and own shops or eateries of one sort or another. But 8.8% have set up construction firms, 7% have gotten involved in the technical field and 6% in rentals. About 12% of the total are women. 

Another interesting thing is that immigrants seem determined to succeed at a time when because of the rocky economic situation, many Italians are throwing in the towel. This may be because they are able to rely on family or foreign community groups for financing at a time when banks are reluctant to give loans or because many of these enterprises are small, individual firms which can roll with the punches. In any event, there is no doubt that because of the tenacity of these people, the social fabric of this country has changed forever, and to my mind for the better.



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