The Benetton family and Blackstone Inc. offered to buy out Atlantia SpA in a deal valuing the Italian highway operator at 19 billion euros ($20.7 billion).
Atlantia investors will receive 23 euros a share in cash, the U.S. buyout giant and the billionaire clan said. That’s 24% higher than Atlantia’s close on April 5, the day before Bloomberg News first reported on approaches to the company.
The deal values Atlantia at about 65 billion euros ($71 billion) including total debt, according to Bloomberg data. On that basis, it would be the largest takeover this year, surpassing Microsoft Corp.’s acquisition of Activision Blizzard Inc.
The move to take Atlantia private is part of the Benettons’ plan to reinvent the Rome-based company after the 8 billion-euro sale of its biggest asset, highway manager Autostrade per l’Italia SpA. The Italian government forced Atlantia, which traces its roots to the late 1990s privatization of Italy’s highway sector, to sell Autostrade in the aftermath of the deadly Genoa bridge collapse in 2018, which killed 43 people.
The bidders will pay 12.7 billion euros in cash for the 67% of Atlantia that the Benetton family doesn’t already own.
The buyers said they support Atlantia’s current business plan and can provide financing for future deals in infrastructure and transport.
The Benettons joined forces with Blackstone to counter an earlier, non-binding bid by Global Infrastructure Partners and Brookfield Asset Management Inc. That approach also had support from Spanish tycoon Florentino Perez, whose Actividades de Construccion y Servicios SA construction group would get a majority stake in Atlantia’s toll-road concessions under that plan.
Edizione Srl, the Benetton holding company that owns 33% of Atlantia, rejected the GIP-Brookfield offer, pledging to keep the company intact and casting uncertainty over the next move from the funds, who’ve yet to clarify whether they’d be willing to proceed with a hostile approach.
Flush with record amounts of capital, infrastructure funds are seeking to invest in assets with predictable returns. GIP is already in talks to raise the world’s biggest pool of capital dedicated to the sector, Bloomberg reported in February. Blackstone last year reopened a flagship infrastructure fund to new money.
Even without its holdings in Italian highways, Atlantia has a wide range of infrastructure assets. The company controls Aeroporti di Roma SpA, which runs Rome’s airport, and is a shareholder in the Bologna airport. It also has hubs in Nice and Saint-Tropez in France. Atlantia is among the top shareholders in Getlink SE, the owner of Channel Tunnel operator Eurotunnel.
In the wake of the Autostrade sale, Atlantia has focused on expansion and diversification in a project spearheaded by Alessandro Benetton, who took over as chairman of Edizione in January.
Atlantia’s biggest asset is Spanish toll-road operator Abertis, which it controls in a venture with ACS.
The Benettons own 65% of the vehicle bidding for Atlantia and Blackstone the remaining 35%. Their plan is to delist the company.
Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Mediobanca SpA, Bank of America Corp., JP Morgan Securities Plc, UBS Group AG and UniCredit SpA are among advisers for the deal.