MILAN (Reuters) – The Benetton family and investment fund Blackstone are talking to banks to put the final touches to a bid for Italy’s Atlantia, sources said on Wednesday, as the two get ready to launch one of this year’s biggest takeover deals.
Benetton holding company Edizione, which already owns 33% of Atlantia, is expected later on Wednesday to give the green light to a deal which could value the roads and airports group at more than 48 billion euros ($51.90 billion) if 30 billion euros of net debt is included.
If successful, it would be the second-biggest global deal of 2022 so far, after Microsoft’s $69 billion acquisition of Activision Blizzard.
The move comes as Atlantia prepares to pocket 8 billion euros from the enforced sale of the group’s Italian motorway unit, a deal aimed at ending a political dispute triggered by the 2018 collapse of a motorway bridge.
The takeover will mark a new phase for the infrastructure group after almost four years during which Atlantia’s business was put at risk and its reputation wrecked following the death of 43 people in the bridge disaster.
Edizione last week said it was in talks with Blackstone regarding Atlantia after it rejected an approach by Global Infrastructure Partners and Brookfield to acquire Atlantia and hand its motorway concessions to Spain’s Florentino Perez.
“The funds proposed the Benettons to completely exit the business and indicated their intention to break the group up,” one source told Reuters, adding this sounded like a slap in the face for the family who had stood by their investment throughout the aftermath of the bridge crisis.
The Benettons and Blackstone now aim to delist Atlantia to shield it from rival suitors who have partnered with Perez.
The Spanish business tycoon Perez controls construction company ACS which in turn runs Spanish road group Abertis with Atlantia.
Sources said Perez and the funds backing him were in a ‘wait and see’ mode after their offer was rebuffed by the Benettons, but had not pulled out of the race.
“We would see as unlikely a counter bid… given the low chances to be successful given Edizione’s stake… and government intervention in the case of a foreign bid,” Italian broker Intesa Sanpaolo said on Wednesday.
At 1330 GMT Atlantia shares were up 0.9% at 21.92 euros.
On Tuesday, one source told Reuters Edizione and Blackstone were considering an offer between 22 and 23 euros per share, a premium of around 30% over Atlantia’s average stock price in the last six months.
($1 = 0.9249 euros)
(Additional reporting by Stefano Bernabei;Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)