The Benetton family joins forces with Blackstone to weave their web across Italy’s highways

(BFM Bourse) – The holding company of the Benetton family and the American investment fund Blackstone submit a takeover bid (OPA) for the entire Atlantia group, an Italian manager of motorway and airport concessions.

Edizione, the holding company of the Benetton family, and the American investment fund Blackstone announced on Thursday that they would jointly submit a takeover bid (OPA) for the entire Atlantia group. The two partners want to surprise the Spanish construction giant ACS, which also has its sights set on the Italian manager of motorway and airport concessions.

The bid proposed by the Benetton family and Blackstone values ​​the entire group at €19 billion, which if successful would make it one of the largest takeover bids since the start of the year. The acquisition price was set at EUR 23 per share plus a dividend of EUR 0.74.

Benetton, Atlantia’s major shareholder with a 33.1% stake, intends to thwart projects being undertaken by ACS, which has teamed up with two other funds, GIP and Brookfield, to buy Atlantia and take control of its freeways to take over, be classified as hostile.

An operation worth almost 13 billion euros

In order to acquire the 66.9% of the capital that does not yet exist, Benetton has to pay almost 12.7 billion euros together with Blackstone. The buyers will also inherit Atlantia’s net debt, which totals €29 billion.

The goal is to delist Atlantia, thus protecting it from possible predators who would want to confiscate it and disrupt the Benetton family’s long-term investment projects for the group, which they consider “strategic”. The takeover bid will be the first major decision by Alessandro Benetton, 58, since he took over the management of the family holding company Edizione in January.

Founded in 1965 in north-eastern Italy by four brothers and sisters, Benetton was initially known for its soft wool sweaters available in multiple colors before diversifying.

“Preserving the integrity of the group and its Italian identity”

The offer aims “not only to provide the best possible support for Atlantia’s industrial projects”, but also “to preserve the integrity of the group and its Italian identity”, commented Alessandro Benetton. With its takeover bid, Benetton also wants to prevent the motorway company Abertis, which is jointly owned with ACS, from coming under the sole control of the Spanish group. The bid was launched by a purpose-built vehicle, controlled 65% by Benetton and 35% by Blackstone, which will contribute around €4.4 billion.

The announcement was well received on the Milan Stock Exchange, where the stock closed up 4.29% to €22.83 on Thursday, but remained below the OPA’s price. The offer price, rated “attractive” by Equita analysts, represents a premium of 5.3% over Wednesday’s close and 24.4% over the price on April 5, ahead of early speculation of a possible ACS takeover bid for Atlantia . The Spanish group announced on April 6 that it had entered into “an exclusive agreement” with GIP and Brookfield to purchase “the majority of the motorway concessions business”.

Approached “unsolicited” by ACS and the two funds, Benetton Holding had declared the next day that such an operation was “of no interest” as it would lead to “a break-up of the Atlantia group”. Atlantia, which employs more than 30,000 people in 24 countries, manages five airports and more than 50 highway concessions in ten countries.

An upcoming stock market fight?

A stock market war over Atlantia cannot be ruled out as ACS, led by Real Madrid football club president Florentino Perez, is still in ambush and could outbid the Benetton family. ACS has additional liquidity since selling its energy operations to French construction giant Vinci in 2021 for around €4.9 billion. “However, a hostile takeover of Atlantia by ACS is unlikely to succeed without a deal with Atlantia’s largest shareholder, Edizione,” warned Kepler analysts.

The acquisition comes as Atlantia prepares to cash in on €8 billion on May 5 from the sale of its 88% stake in Autostrade per l’Italia (Aspi) to a consortium led by the Caisse of Italian Deposits (CDP) and which includes the Blackstone fund. Florentino Perez had also expressed his interest in Aspi to Atlantia, but without making a formal offer.

Since the Genoa Viaduct collapse in August 2018, which killed 43 people and is managed by Autostrade, the Benetton family has been under a lot of pressure to sell their stake.

Sabrina Sadgui with AFP

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