(Bloomberg) -- The Benetton family’s Atlantia SpA and Spanish builder ACS are in early talks that could lead to a joint takeover of Abertis Infraestructuras SA, according to people familiar with the matter, signaling the rival suitors are seeking to avert a bidding war over the toll road operator.
Atlantia and Actividades de Construccion y Servicios SA are exploring options including the creation of a co-owned holding company to bid for majority control of Abertis, the people said, asking not to be identified because the deliberations are private. If the two rivals agree to a co-ownership structure, it could also get around contentious negotiations about how to split up Abertis’s sprawling assets, though a breakup could happen farther down the road, the people said.
ACS and Atlantia published separate statements Thursday in response to a report by Spanish newspaper Expansion that they’re exploring an accord to divide up Abertis. They confirmed talks without providing details and said no agreement has so far been reached. Shares in Atlantia and ACS jumped while Abertis stock slumped as much as 4.6 percent.
Atlantia and ACS are holding the initial talks without active involvement of Abertis’s biggest investor, Criteria Caixa SA, which currently owns about 22 percent, the people said.
“Criteria Caixa doesn’t know of supposed conversations between ACS and Atlantia for a possible joint bid for Abertis,” the firm said in an emailed statement. A spokeswoman for Abertis declined to comment. Atlantia didn’t respond to requests for comment while a representative of ACS had no immediate comment.
Real Madrid Chairman Florentino Perez’s ACS and Atlantia have been battling over Abertis for months after Perez mounted a challenge to the Italian company’s offer to acquire its Spanish rival for 16.3 billion-euro ($20.2 billion). Rome-based Atlantia’s bid was halted in October to give Spanish authorities time to review Perez’s counter proposal.
Through its German unit Hochtief AG, ACS in October offered 18.6 billion euros in cash and shares for Abertis as part of a plan to keep it in Spanish hands and help diversify ACS away from its core construction business. Abertis operates more than 5,000 miles of highways including a network in France that’s considered its most attractive asset.
Atlantia shares gained as much as 6.2 percent, the most since June 2012, and were up 4.8 percent to 26.98 euros at 3:27 p.m. in Milan trading. ACS gained as much as 10 percent and was trading 9.1 percent higher at 29.72 euros in Madrid. Abertis shares fell 3.7 percent to 18.7 euros.
Spain’s government favors a deal that would prevent Abertis from falling under foreign ownership, people familiar with the matter have said. If combined, Abertis and Atlantia would manage more than 14,000 kilometers (8,700 miles) of highway networks from Rome to Santiago, Chile, and generate annual revenue exceeding 10 billion euros.
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