In Milan’s Piazza Affari stands a Fascist-era building called Palazzo Mezzanotte. For almost a century, the captains of industry and their underlings bayed for money there in the so-called Room of Shouts, where a handful of companies were publicly traded. It was a select group of people who understood the stock market in those days. Many of them lived close to the building and whispered buyout rumors in cozy restaurants nearby. The insider atmosphere remains, but the Room of Shouts is no more. It was vacated just before the market went fully electronic in 1994. Italy no longer had a trading floor, only a room full of computers fielding orders on the outskirts of Milan. In 2009, those listings then moved to the new parent board, the London Stock Exchange.

Italians have always been assiduous savers, but the automation of the market coincided with the first real surge of popular investing. Before the 1990s, when large state monopolies were cut up and privatized, Italians with significant savings typically kept the money in real estate or else poured it into a family business. By now, Italians have become more or less seasoned investors in securities. Many of them, despite their state-administered pensions, have taken to the markets when planning their retirements, and they’ve since experienced the dramatic ups and downs. Mostly the downs.

European markets burned about ‚1 trillion in the days following the September 11, 2001 attacks. Italy’s now-defunct blue chip index, the Mib 30, lost some 25 percent, or ‚150 billion. The high-tech Nuovo Mercato index”whose total market value had inflated to around ‚20 billion in the boom years ”lost almost all of that when the speculative Internet bubble burst. (Note that all of those indices have changed names since the Borsa Italiana was acquired by the London Stock Exchange in 2009.) After the drastic start to the new century and a mildly reassuring recovery, another, much bigger storm was on the horizon. The global financial crisis that started in the United States soon reached Milan and the rest of the continent. Between 2007 and 2012, it wiped out about two-thirds of the Italian stock market’s value altogether.


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