Italy State Lender Readies Better Bid to End Autostrade Spat

Italy’s Cassa Depositi e Prestiti SpA is seeking to seal the purchase of a strategic highway asset that’s been at the center of a tussle between Rome and the billionaire Benetton family for over two years.

The state-backed lender and investor, along with funds Macquarie Group Ltd. and Blackstone Group Inc., is readying a new binding offer for a controlling stake in Atlantia SpA’s Italian highway unit Autostrade per l’Italia SpA, according to people familiar with the matter.

Benetton-owned Atlantia said in a statement that in a letter sent late Sunday, Cassa Depositi said it is confident “to be able to provide an improved and more compelling” bid by the end of the month. The letter, previously reported by Bloomberg News, did not include a valuation.

That would require extending a previous deadline for an offer set at the end of January.

The new offer is expected to be priced between 8.5 billion euros ($10.2 billion) and 9.5 billion euros, one of the people said. Since Atlantia’s board has already rejected non-binding bids in a similar price range, the lender may have to offer some sweeteners to complete a deal this time.

Italy State Lender Readies Better Bid to End Autostrade Spat

“We believe 100% of the equity value of Autostrade is worth at least 12 billion euros,” Nicolas Ducarre, founder of Spinecap, a Paris-based investor, said in an e-mailed statement. That means any deal below 10 billion euros for the 88% stake owned by Atlantia must be categorically rebuffed, he added. Spinecap is an investor in Atlantia.

The company is set to meet Feb. 5 to discuss the issue, Atlantia said in the statement. Atlantia shares were halted in Milan trading on Monday after gaining as much as 11.4%.

Legal Issues

Pricing may not be the only hurdle in the talks between CDP and Atlantia. The Italian government, which controls CDP via the Treasury, has clashed with the Benettons over toll licenses ever since a fatal 2018 bridge collapse on a section of road managed by the company.

Rome has also come under scrutiny from the European Commission for its conduct in what’s become a long-running legal battle, according to a letter sent to the Italian government seen by Bloomberg News last week.

Read more: Italy State Lender Seeks to End Autostrade Rift With New Bid

That letter seeks clarification on unilateral changes in toll-road concessions following the 2018 accident. Italy in 2019 approved rules that make it easier and cheaper to revoke toll-road licenses.

Legal risks linked to the Genoa disaster are also a major concern. Giovanni Castellucci, a former chief executive officer of both Autostrade and Atlantia, was arrested as part of an investigation into road safety following the bridge disaster.

The Benetton family also recently replaced the head of its holding company. Enrico Laghi, a former special administrator at airline Alitalia, replaced Gianni Mion in a move seen as facilitating a deal with the government.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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