The Biggest Deal of the Year Will Tie Up Benetton, Blackstone, and Highways

Image Credit: Altantia

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“Acqua in bocca,” or keep the water in your mouth, is an Italian expression used to tell someone to keep a secret. It literally means to keep your lips shut so no liquid drips out.

But, in the case of Italian infrastructure giant Atlantia, the water’s been dripping out for weeks. It’s no secret that the fashion-famous Benetton family and US private equity powerhouse Blackstone are eyeing the firm in what would be the year’s biggest acquisition. On Monday, news leaked that a deal could finally be announced as early as tomorrow.

Italian Lesson

There has been a lot of noise that Atlantia could sell at a high price, and that’s because its portfolio is gigantic. Atlantia has a majority stake in airports in Cannes, Nice, Rome, and St. Tropez. It owns highways in Argentina, Brazil, India, Mexico, the US, and six other countries. It also operates toll roads in 24 countries. As we told you: their portfolio is gigantic.

That’s why Atlantia has a market value of $17 billion. A takeover by the billionaire Bennetons and Blackstone, which sources told Bloomberg News could be announced Wednesday, would easily become the year’s biggest deal and one of the largest infrastructure acquisitions in history. But there is still a chance that another high-profile European could off-ramp the deal into his lane in a battle over who gets to take on the most debt:

  • Atlantia has almost 50 billion euros in debt, according to Bloomberg data. That means any deal, including debt, would likely be in the range of $71 billion. Edizione, the Benetton family’s holding company, has a head start with a 30% stake in Atlantia.
  • Florentino Perez, the Spanish construction tycoon and president of Real Madrid football club, is working with NYC fund Global Infrastructure Partners and Canadian investment giant Brookfield to make a competing bid. Perez leads civil engineering giant Grupo ACS, whose projects also include highway developments and toll roads.

Bad Reputation: Atlantia, which grew out of the privatization of Italian highways in the 1990s, has been mired in controversy since a 2018 bridge collapse in Genoa led to the death of 43 people. The Italian government forced the company to sell Autostrade, its Italian roads unit, in the wake of the disaster, and a sale was agreed to last month. Ironically, the consortium acquiring Autostrade for $9 billion includes Blackstone, which could ultimately end up with a piece of both entities.