The Benettons reject ACS’s offer for Atlantia and prepare for a bid battle | Economy

In just a few hours, the Italian company Atlantia, an infrastructure and highway manager, has found itself in the middle of a battle for control, with two possible takeover bids in sight. On the one hand, Florentino Pérez’s construction company, ACS, is studying launching a takeover bid for Atlantia’s highway concession business, although no firm decision has yet been made. ACS acknowledged on Wednesday to the Spanish stock market supervisor that it has an exclusive agreement with the funds specialized in infrastructure GIP and Brookfield to face the operation. But Pérez’s maneuver has met a tough opponent. The Benetton family, the main shareholder of Atlantia, of which it controls 33.1%, has flatly rejected the offer, which they describe as “unsolicited” and has pointed to a possible counteroffer with the US fund Blackstone as a possible partner. for the company to remain in Italian hands. Considering that Atlantia currently has a market capitalization in excess of €15 billion, it would be one of the largest corporate deals in the world so far this year.

The Benetton family, majority shareholder of Atlantia through its holding company Edizione, issued a statement this Thursday, at the request of Consob, the Italian market supervisory body, in which it clarifies that its investment in Atlantia is “of a strategic nature” and which intends to maintain the Italian roots of the company, in addition to “continuing to contribute to the sustainable development of its value”. He has also confirmed that his group is holding talks with the US fund as a possible partner, “but no agreement has yet been reached.” Throughout the day, various reports from specialized media had suggested that the industrial clan was negotiating a possible counter-offer with Blackstone, which would take the entirety of Atlantia and exclude it from the Stock Market.

ACS and Atlantia are already partners in Abertis, a Spanish highway concession company in which Pérez’s company has 50% minus one share and the Italian company the other 50% plus one share. If the offer is successful, ACS would also take full control of Abertis.

Edizione devotes part of the statement to Abertis and to the possibility of selling the toll road business to ACS. The note does not mention ACS as the bidding party, but as a possible buyer of most of the highway business of the Italian infrastructure group Atlantia, and explains that it has informed GIP and Brookfield that it rejected the project. It points out that the sale of Abertis and, potentially, of other highway assets would imply a de facto fragmentation of the Atlantia group, something that it rejects in favor of its “strategic policy of preserving the integrity of the group and giving greater impetus to its activities by supporting its sustainable development as a main shareholder”.

If ACS decides to go ahead with its hostile bid, it would run into another stumbling block. The investment fund of the Government of Singapore (GIC), which has 8.2%, and Fondazine Cassa Risparmio Torino (4.5%), the second and third shareholder of Atlantia, have always had a good relationship with Edizione, and Together they account for 45.8% of the capital of the infrastructure manager. The British multinational HSBC has 5%, the Italian Treasury 0.84% ​​and the rest, just over 48%, is floating capital, which is listed on the Stock Exchange.

The Italian company started the session on Thursday with a rise of 11% in the market, given the prospect of a takeover bid, and reached 21 euros per share, a price that it had not registered since before the pandemic. Following the Edizione statement, the rise in its titles moderated to 6.87%.

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Atlantia represents a succulent opportunity for ACS, since by taking control of it, it would obtain the other half of Abertis, which has a strong presence in Spain and Latin America, especially in Brazil, Argentina and Mexico. In addition, it has 48 highway concessions in 11 countries, has some type of toll service in 24 countries, operates five airports (those of Fiumicino and Ciampino, in Rome, and Nice, Cannes and Saint Tropez, on the French Côte d’Azur). , and has 15.5% of Getlink, the holding company that manages the Eurotunnel in the English Channel.

Last year, ACS already sought an agreement with Atlantia to buy Autostrade per l’Italia (ASPI), the company with which it controlled almost 3,000 kilometers of Italian motorways for around 10,000 million euros. On that occasion it was a private operation and with great political pressure and public opinion in which the interest of the Italian Government also came into play, which was the one who had forced Atlantia to divest its motorway network, the largest in the transalpine country, as a result of the collapse in 2018 of the Genoa bridge, managed by Autostrade, which caused 43 fatalities. Finally, the company was left in the hands of a consortium formed by the Italian Executive itself, through the public bank Caja de Depósitos y Préstamos and the Blackstone and Macquarie funds, after an operation of 9,300 million euros.

Since then, Atlantia has focused on its expansion and diversification plans, but has lost a third of its market value. It currently has a stock market value of around 15,700 million euros, at the end of the year its net financial debt was 35,278 million and it closed last year with a profit of 626 million euros, compared to losses of 1,177 million euros in 2020 .

Bridge collapse trial

Precisely this Thursday, it has been known that a total of 59 people, including the former CEO of Autostrade per l’Italia, Giovanni Castellucci, will be tried from July 7 for the collapse of the Morandi bridge in Genoa in 2018. The judge of the preliminary process, Paola Faggioni, decided this Thursday to send to trial all those accused of the collapse of this bridge on the morning of August 14, 2018, in which 43 people lost their lives.

On the other hand, the magistrate has agreed with the company Autostrade per l’Italia (ASPI) and its engineering subsidiary SPEA, which should be in charge of maintaining the infrastructure, the payment of some 30 million euros as compensation to avoid the process. One of the defendants will be the former CEO of ASPI, Giovanni Castellucci, who already took “for granted” the opening of a trial against him, his lawyers explained to the press. The manager was relieved of the position in January 2019 and remained the CEO of Atlantia -controlled by the Benetton family through the Edizione holding company-, until his resignation in September 2019.

Prosecutors Massimo Terrile and Walter Cotugno have conducted three years of investigation into the causes of this disaster that shocked the country and during the five months of preliminary hearing they have accused the defendants of the poor condition of the bridge. The prosecutors had described the bridge as “a time bomb” that was not known when it would explode due to its poor state of conservation. His investigations consider crimes such as multiple manslaughter, road manslaughter, manslaughter, concealment of documents, attack on transport security, falsehood or willful omission of security devices in the workplace, among others.

The spokesman for the committee of the families of the victims, Egle Possetti, expressed his “satisfaction” for the opening of the trial. On August 3, 2020, the reconstruction of the bridge was inaugurated in style, baptized as the San Giorgio Viaduct and entrusted to the famous architect Renzo Piano.

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