Atlantia Weighs Bid for Highway Unit to End Years of Feuding
(Bloomberg) -- A fierce battle over Italy’s main highway operator that’s played out over three straight governments is set to take its latest turn as soon as Friday.
The board of infrastructure giant Atlantia SpA is expected to assess a 9.1 billion-euro ($10.9 billion) offer for its toll road unit Autostrade per l’Italia SpA from an investor group led by state-backed lender Cassa Depositi e Prestiti SpA.
But after years of wrangling, the board’s next move is far from certain. Benetton family-controlled Atlantia has already rejected similarly valued offers four times in the last few months.
Though both sides say they want to end the impasse, the Benettons and the Italian government have been locked in a cycle of ever-more acrimonious mudslinging since the deadly 2018 Morandi bridge disaster on a section of highway managed by Autostrade.
Successive administrations have to varying degrees hung blame for the accident on the Benettons, and politicians in and out of the government have scored points by calling for the company to give up its domestic road business.
The newest offer by the Cassa Depositi-led group, which also includes Australia’s Macquarie Group Ltd. and New York-based Blackstone Group Ltd., doesn’t value the stake any higher than previous bids, but it includes better terms for the legal liabilities that have hovered over Autostrade since the accident, according to people familiar with the deliberations.
The new offer also has the backing of Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s government, which controls Cassa Depositi via the Treasury.
Read more: Italy State Lender, Funds Submit ‘Final’ Autostrade Bid
Adding further uncertainty: an eleventh hour display of interest from Spanish billionaire Florentino Perez’s construction giant Actividades de Construccion y Servicios SA, just days before the Atlantia board meeting.
Advisers to Perez have in recent days been given access to the data room Atlantia set up for Autostrade’s bidders, indicating that the building magnate’s interest could be genuine, according to people familiar with matter.
For its part, Cassa Depositi has signaled that it won’t sweeten its bid, seeing the ACS approach as a move possibly orchestrated by Atlantia to get better terms. Still, an outright rejection of the offer at the Friday meeting remains unlikely, according to the people.
Instead, Atlantia’s board is expected to call a general shareholders meeting to evaluate the bid, a step also backed by the Benettons. That could buy time and allow the family to gauge whether Perez’s interest is genuine.
The Italian and Spanish companies do have a history of working together when it suits them. Atlantia and ACS have jointly controlled highway operator Abertis Infraestructuras SA since 2018, after the two firms competed to acquire it before ultimately forming a joint venture for the purchase.
©2021 Bloomberg L.P.