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Measuring and comparing the performances of energy retail companies: Firm strategies following the liberalization

Guendalina Capece (Department of Enterprise Engineering, University of Rome “Tor Vergata”, Rome, Italy)
Francesca Di Pillo (Department of Enterprise Engineering, University of Rome “Tor Vergata”, Rome, Italy)
Nathan Levialdi (Department of Enterprise Engineering, University of Rome “Tor Vergata”, Rome, Italy)

International Journal of Energy Sector Management

ISSN: 1750-6220

Article publication date: 18 November 2013

873

Abstract

Purpose

In the last decade, the Italian natural gas market has undergone profound changes. The slow ongoing process of liberalization that began in 2000 has produced many changes in the industry as companies have had to react to the new regulatory framework. Many companies have sought agreements, alliances and mergers to consolidate their position in the market, other companies have sought to diversify their product range by becoming multi-utility companies, others, unable to react to the new competitive pressures, have gone bankrupt. The aim of the work is to analyse the performance of natural gas retail companies after the liberalization of the sector.

Design/methodology/approach

The authors carry out a financial statement analysis for indexes in order to evaluate business management in terms of the financial, profitability and liquidity aspects. The authors analysed a sample of 111 companies operating in Italy for a six-year period (2004-2009) following the full liberalization of the sector (January 1, 2003).

Findings

Results show that many of the firms in the sample are suffering from a reduction in profits and present serious financial weaknesses. In particular, the companies that perform the worst are the small, new entrants and those in the south of Italy. In regard to the new entrants it should be noted that although more than ten years have passed since the beginning of the liberalization process, entry barriers are still present. As regards the business diversification, the best financial and operating results are achieved by large firms, listed companies and those which grew mainly through M&As.

Research limitations/implications

Even though there are numerous theoretical and empirical studies on the effects of diversification strategies and M&As, very few researchers have analyzed these effects in the context of a liberalization process of an energy sector. Starting from this gap in the literature, the work aims to analyse the strategies implemented by the Italian companies in the natural gas retail segment.

Practical implications

The empirical findings will help the policy makers of Italy in understanding that more than ten years since the beginning of the natural gas market liberalization, entry barriers are still present. Although all consumers have been free to choose their supplier since 2003, the incumbent firms have maintained a dominant position in the market, thanks to a “weak” unbundling (often the incumbent retail operator belongs to the same group as the distribution network operator) and to the advantage in the supply phase by means of a long-term contract with a “take or pay” clause.

Originality/value

Italy has always been characterized by the centrality of natural gas in its energy basket and it is the third European country for annual consumption. Despite the importance of this energy source, no substantial work has been done in this regard with reference to Italy.

Keywords

Citation

Capece, G., Di Pillo, F. and Levialdi, N. (2013), "Measuring and comparing the performances of energy retail companies: Firm strategies following the liberalization", International Journal of Energy Sector Management, Vol. 7 No. 4, pp. 491-515. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJESM-01-2013-0002

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2013, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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