By Stephen Jewkes and Francesca Landini
MILAN -Atlantia found itself at the centre of a potential bidding war on Wednesday between Spanish tycoon Florentino Perez and the Benettons, the Italian infrastructure group’s main investor.
Perez’s construction company ACS said it was interested in buying Atlantia’s motorway concessions business, teaming up with two investment funds.
But Italy’s Benetton family, investment fund Blackstone and other long-time investors such as Italian banking foundation CRT were studying a counter-move to buy the whole infrastructure company and shield it from the attack led by the Spanish billionaire, three sources with knowledge of the matter said.
Atlantia has just finalised a deal to sell its controlling stake in Italian motorway unit Autostrade per l’Italia and will pocket 8 billion euros by end-June from a consortium led by Italy’s state lender CDP.
“The Benettons are united to shield the group and may decide to delist it to protect the cash due to arrive from Autostrade deal,” one of the sources said.
In a statement after the market close, ACS said it has an exclusive agreement with two investment funds, GIP and Brookfield, for the potential acquisition of a majority stake in the motorway concession business of the Italian infrastructure company.
“No decision has been taken to date”, ACS said in the statement where it did not clarify if it has discussed the eventual offer with Atlantia’s board or main shareholders, the Benetton family.
“Atlantia is and will remain a strategic long-term asset for Benetton Holding Edizione”, a source close to the Benetton family told Reuters.
Earlier on Wednesday, shares in Atlantia surged almost 9% after a Bloomberg News report that Spanish tycoon Perez was weighing an offer for the Italian roads and airports group.
Any bid for Atlantia, which has a market capitalisation of more than 15 billion euros ($16.4 billion), would need the backing of Edizione, the holding company of the Benetton family, which recently increased its stake in the group to 33%.
Atlantia was not immediately available for comment.
Alessandro Benetton was appointed chairman of Edizione this year, tightening the family’s grip on its investments, including at Atlantia. Edizione said at the time it deemed its investment in Atlantia strategic.
Perez, the president of Real Madrid soccer club, and the Benettons are already linked through their joint ownership of Spanish highway operator Abertis.
Perez’s ACS, which itself has a market capitalisation of 7.2 billion euros, has been Atlantia’s partner in Abertis since the two groups’ joint acquisition of the company in 2017.
As well as motorways, Atlantia also operates airports in Rome and southern France and is investing in technology to help regulate traffic flows.
Through ACS, Perez previously pursued a bid for Atlantia’s Italian motorway unit Autostrade per l’Italia but did not manage to secure the backing of the Italian government to go ahead with a binding offer.
Atlantia eventually sold the unit, the focal point of a dispute with the government following a deadly collapse of a bridge in 2018, to Italian state lender CDP and allies. Following the divestment, Atlantia kept highway assets in Spain, France and Latin America. ($1 = 0.9168 euros)
(Additional reporting by Francesca Landini and Agnieszka Flak in Milan, Corina Pons, Belén Carreño, Andrés González and Jesus Aguado in MadridEditing by Keith Weir, Bernard Orr)