A 9 billion offer for Autostrade

The term that marks the final act of a seven-month long negotiation is binding. Binding. Take or leave. It was the dawn of last July 15 when the Conte government celebrated “the return of the highways to the Italians”. But the agreement with the Benettons to lead them to give up Autostrade and thus obtain the scalp for the collapse of the Morandi bridge required a very long extra time. Because that operation was steeped in political revenge. But on an industrial level it had to be built from scratch. It will be February 24 the date on which the games will come to the point. Cassa Depositi e Prestiti – the pivot of the buyers’ scheme – will present a binding offer together with the foreign funds Blackstone and Macquarie. Autostrade is worth about 9 billion to them. It will be up to Atlantia – the parent company through which the Benettons control the motorway company – to say on Friday if the price is okay and if the games can be closed.

The stamp on the proposal was put by the Board of Directors of the Cassa on Tuesday evening. Even the American fund says yes while we will have to wait a few more hours for the green light of Macquarie’s board of directors. But the offer is ready and will be sent to Atlantia on Wednesday. Validated by the new government, which inherited the scheme from the old one. Remained unchanged. The alignment between the CEO of Cassa Fabrizio Palermo and the new Economy Minister Daniele Franco is full. Total harmony. And the Mef-Cassa axis also aligns the entire government. Even Mario Draghi has nothing to object to, quite the contrary. To understand why, just look at what Autostrade will become if Atlantia gives the green light to the offer of the consortium led by the Cassa.

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First of all, the industrial and strategic nature of the operation for the Cassa. Autostrade was also a political affair. The tragedy of Morandi, the 5-star campaign against the Benettons, the wavering repositioning of the Pd. Compared to the revocation announced by Giuseppe Conte in the aftermath of the collapse of the bridge, many things have changed. No more revocation. And then the agreement with the Benettons but without paying a single euro. Then the euros became many and to be defined during the second negotiation, the operational one between the Cassa and Atlantia. The presentation of the binding offer by CDP and the two funds closes the season steeped in the element of political revenge and opens that of the industrial operation.

The Cassa is the first investor in the country’s infrastructure. It is in the belly of companies that manage strategic national networks: Snam, Terna, Italgas, Tim and Open Fiber. The Autostrade operation is part of this trend with the aim, among others, of implementing a huge investment plan on the network to accelerate maintenance programs, ensuring high standards of performance and safety. Of course, if the offer goes through, the 5 stars will be able to celebrate the new Autostrade, no longer in the hands of the Benettons. But the final arrangement proposed by the buyers goes further. Also because if CDP will be the pivot of the new ownership, it is clear that the State will have to create the best conditions to make the removal of the Benettons profitable. In short, the game must be worth the candle. All the more so that the game has a price. In the proposal, in fact, Cdp and the two funds will propose to acquire 88% of Autostrade or 100% if the minority shareholders who own the remaining 12% decide to sell their share of the shares. And to complete it all, the company’s valuation is estimated at around 9 billion. Including approximately one billion for indemnity. The price, that is, takes into account the costs that may arise from the causes for the collapse of the Morandi.

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The money will be put there by the buyers in proportion to the stake they will own at the end of the operation. And here we return to the scheme of the new Autostrade. An Italian company will be established which will be directly or indirectly owned 51% by Cdp. In the case of a joint venture, there will be other Italian institutional investors alongside him. The two funds Blackstone and Macquarie will respectively have 24.5%: together they will reach 49%. Now it’s up to the Benettons to say yes or no. But the last word also belongs to the other shareholders of Atlantia. The Tci fund indicates the value of 100% of Autostrade at 11-12 billion. Two-three billion dance.

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