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The Benetton family joins forces with Blackstone to weave its web across Italy’s motorways


(BFM Bourse) – The holding company of the Benetton family and the American investment fund Blackstone are launching 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 join forces to launch a takeover bid (OPA) for the entire Atlantia group. The two partners intend to take the Spanish construction giant ACS by surprise, which is also eyeing the Italian manager of motorway and airport concessions.

The offer proposed by the Benetton family and Blackstone values ​​the whole group at 19 billion euros, which, if successful, would make it one of the biggest takeover bids since the beginning of the year. The takeover price was set at 23 euros per share, plus a dividend of 0.74 euros.

Benetton, the main shareholder of Atlantia with a 33.1% share, intends to thwart the projects deemed hostile by ACS, which has joined forces with two other funds, GIP and Brookfield, to buy Atlantia and take control of its highways.

An operation worth nearly 13 billion euros

To acquire the 66.9% of the capital that it does not yet own, Benetton, jointly with Blackstone, will have to pay nearly 12.7 billion euros. The buyers will also inherit Atlantia’s net debt, which amounts to 29 billion euros.

The objective is to delist Atlantia and thus protect it from possible predators who would like to seize it and disrupt the Benetton family’s long-term investment projects for the group which it considers to be “strategic”. The takeover bid will have been the first major decision by Alessandro Benetton, 58, since he took over the reins of the family holding company, Edizione, in January.

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

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

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

The announcement was well received on the Milan Stock Exchange, where the title closed Thursday up 4.29% to 22.83 euros, however remaining below the price of the OPA. The offer price, considered “attractive” by Equita analysts, represents a premium of 5.3% compared to the closing price on Wednesday and 24.4% compared to the price on April 5, before there are early speculations about a possible ACS bid for Atlantia. The Spanish group announced on April 6 that it had concluded “an exclusive agreement” with GIP and Brookfield to buy “the majority of the motorway concessions division”.

Approached “unsolicited” by ACS and the two funds, the Benetton holding company had indicated the next day that such an operation was “devoid of interest”, insofar as it would lead to a “breakup of the Atlantia group” . Atlantia, which employs more than 30,000 people in 24 countries, manages five airports and more than 50 motorway concessions in ten countries.

An upcoming stock market battle?

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

This takeover comes at a time when Atlantia is preparing to collect, on May 5, 8 billion euros, fruit of the sale of its 88% share held in Autostrade per l’Italia (Aspi) to a consortium led by the Caisse of Italian deposits (CDP) and to which the Blackstone fund also belongs. Florentino Perez had also expressed his interest in Aspi to Atlantia, without however submitting a formal offer.

Since the collapse of the Genoa viaduct in August 2018, which killed 43 people and of which Autostrade is the manager, the Benetton family has been under great pressure to sell its share.

Sabrina Sadgui with AFP

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