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Blackstone and Benetton family bid to take Italy’s Atlantia private in €54bn deal

Blackstone and the billionaire family behind Italian fashion brand Benetton have made a takeover bid for Italian infrastructure group Atlantia that values the toll road operator at about €54bn.

The €23-a-share offer would mark the largest ever take-private deal for a European listed company, and would end a turbulent period for Atlantia’s investors during which the coronavirus pandemic and the fatal collapse in 2018 of the Morandi bridge in Genoa have buffeted shares.

It comes less than a year after Blackstone agreed to buy a stake in Atlantia’s toll road arm, Autostrade per l’Italia (Aspi), for €9.3bn, as part of a consortium led by state-controlled Cassa Depositi e Prestiti. That separate deal is due to be completed on May 5, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Blackstone and Edizione, a holding company that manages the fortune of Italy’s Benetton family and already owns a third of Atlantia, confirmed their intention to bid for the motorway operator on Thursday, following reports last week about the possibility of a deal. Atlantia would remain separate from Aspi if the deal is agreed.

The offer is the latest development in a long-running saga over the ownership of the company. The Benetton family has been under pressure to seek a buyer for part or all of Atlantia since the collapse of the Morandi bridge, which was maintained by an Atlantia subsidiary.

Florentino Pérez, chair of Grupo ACS and the president of Real Madrid football club, had reportedly been working on a possible bid with Brookfield Asset Management and Global Infrastructure Partners.

Given the Bennetons’ existing stake, the chances of a rival, hostile offer are “extremely limited”, analysts at Cowan noted. “It is hard to see any real impediment to this transaction closing as planned,” they said.

The bid values Atlantia at 11.5 times next year’s projected earnings, they added.

It would mark Europe’s largest private equity-backed deal on record, according to data provider Refinitiv, topping a €21bn offer for Blackstone’s European warehouse portfolio Mileway and KKR’s £11.1bn acquisition of chemist chain Boots in 2007.

Atlantia owns airports in Nice, St Tropez, Cannes and Rome as well as motorways in 11 countries including Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, US and India. It operates toll roads in 24 countries.

Edizione would own 65 per cent of Atlantia under the proposed deal and Blackstone would own 35 per cent.

The bid values the company’s equity at about €19bn. It had €35.3bn of net debt as of December 31, taking its enterprise value to €54.3bn, though the debt is likely to fall once the Aspi sale is completed.

The offer values Atlantia’s shares at a 24 per cent premium to the closing price of the motorway operator’s stock last week before rumours of the deal started circulating. Atlantia shareholders will receive a proposed dividend of 74 cents in May.

Atlantia shares rose 5 per cent to €23 on Thursday.

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