Italy’s Conte Keeps Investors Guessing on Autostrade’s Fate

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Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte kept investors guessing over the fate of toll-road manager Autostrade per l’Italia SpA, ahead of a late-night cabinet meeting due to consider the option of stripping away its highway concessions in a long confrontation with the Benetton family.

A decision on the issue which has split the ruling coalition “must involve the entire government,” Conte told reporters on Monday evening. He said that at a cabinet gathering due Tuesday, “all the ministers will be able to know the details” behind a decision in the dispute, triggered by a deadly 2018 bridge collapse in Genoa.

The cabinet will take place on Tuesday evening, according to an official who asked not to be named in line with policy. Newswire Ansa reported the meeting was delayed to 10 p.m. from the morning.

Conte on Monday sided with the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, the biggest force in the coalition which has called for revocation of the concessions or a full exit of the Benetton family, in rejecting a final offer from the Benettons to cede control of Autostrade to infrastructure fund F2i and state lender Cassa Depositi e Prestiti SpA, while retaining a minority stake. Autostrade is owned by Benetton family holding Atlantia SpA.

The future of the company is at stake. Autostrade has warned it could default, putting Atlantia at risk, in case of revocation. Atlantia owns 88% of Autostrade. Allianz and China’s Silk Road bought a minority stake in the toll-road operator in 2017. The billionaire Benetton family controls Atlantia with a 30% stake.

Autostrade said Monday it hopes the government decision will be based on legal basis and take into account the interest of 7,000 workers and 17,000 savers that hold a part of its debt. Autostrade’s bonds due 2023 dropped 3 cents on the euro on Monday and are now indicated at 91 cents, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Atlantia shares rose as much as 3.8% in Milan trading after falling over 15% Monday.

Coalition tensions are undermining the government, with the center-left Democratic party wanting the state to take a role as a shareholder in Autostrade, and the junior ally Italy Alive of ex-premier Matteo Renzi opposed to revoking the concessions.

Five Star is pushing for the government to appoint a commissioner to handle the dispute, putting the company under temporary state administration.

“It’s the only way to start the revocation,” Five Star’s Giancaro Cancelleri, the deputy infrastructure minister, told RAI radio. “Then we put the concession out to tender.” Cancelleri said that Five Star is calling for state-owned operator Anas SpA to become involved only in security checks.

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