Blackstone weighs takeover bid for Italian infrastructure group Atlantia

Blackstone Group is weighing a takeover bid for Italian infrastructure group Atlantia, the manager of motorways, toll roads and airports across Europe, in what would be one the largest buyouts in the booming industry, said people briefed about the matter.

The New York-based private equity group is working on the bid with Edizione, a holding company that manages the fortune of Italy’s Benetton family and owns a third of Atlantia, said a person with direct knowledge of the situation.

With its large shareholding, Edizione has the ability to influence any buyout proposal.

Blackstone declined to comment.

Atlantia owns majority stakes in airports in Nice, St Tropez, Cannes, and the Leonardo da Vinci international airport in Rome; motorways in 11 countries including Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, the US and India; and operates toll roads in 24 countries.

Blackstone’s potential to enter a bidding war for Atlantia was first reported by Bloomberg, sending the Italian group’s US-listed shares up 10 per cent to close with an equity value of more than $17bn, according to data compiled by Sentieo.

The potential bid comes on the heels of a separate report that Florentino Pérez, chair of Grupo ACS and the president of football club Real Madrid, is teaming up with infrastructure investors Brookfield Asset Management and Global Infrastructure Partners on a takeover offer.

Pérez has considered partnering with the Benettons but is also willing to make a hostile approach if he fails to win the backing of the northern Italian family.

The Benetton family has been under enormous pressure to seek a buyer for part or all of Atlantia since the deadly collapse four years ago of the Morandi bridge in Genoa, which was maintained by an Atlantia subsidiary.

Italy’s previous government, led by the populist leader Giuseppe Conte, had threatened multiple times to strip Atlantia’s right to operate Italy’s highway network as a result of the tragedy.

Atlantia’s shares have languished since the Morandi bridge collapse, falling in value by more than a third since August 2018 before takeover speculation pushed them higher in recent days.