June 10, 2020 / 4:41 PM / a month ago

Macquarie, F2i jostling over Benetton-backed Autostrade: sources

MILAN (Reuters) - Infrastructure funds F2i and Macquarie are jostling for position over an investment in Italy’s Autostrade as pressure mounts on Benetton-backed Atlantia to loosen its grip on the motorway group to end a standoff over its concession, two sources said.

Any investment will only go ahead if the political row over Autostrade’s toll licence is resolved, making it possible to give a fair valuation of the company, several sources said.

F2i, Italy’s biggest infrastructure fund, has lined up a series of Italian co-investors, including postal operator Poste Italiane (PST.MI), two sources said.

“F2i is in the data room for Autostrade,” one source said, referring to it having access to the company’s books. They added that state lender CDP could play a role in F2i’s bid.

Australian infrastructure fund Macquarie also has access to the books, two people with knowledge of the matter said. One of them added that Macquarie was also ready to team up with CDP to guarantee Italian oversight of the asset, and was also open to talking to F2i.

F2i and Macquarie declined to comment. A spokesman for CDP said it had no Autostrade dossier on the table at the moment.

Infrastructure group Atlantia (ATL.MI), controlled by the Benetton family, owns 88% of Autostrade.

Since the deadly collapse of a bridge operated by Autostrade in 2018, the ruling 5-Star Movement has threatened to strip the company of its concession or get the Benetton family to cede control.

But 5-Star’s governing partners, the centre-left Democratic Party and centrist Italia Viva, worry revoking the concession would cost billions in compensation to Autostrade, potentially embroiling the state in a long legal battle.

Without an agreement to drop calls for the revocation of Autostrade’s concession and new legislation making it easier to withdraw the licence, Atlantia will not negotiate any reduction in its stake, a source at Autostrade said.

“The talks between the Benettons and the government are stuck,” a political source said, adding Rome was insisting on tough conditions in return for dropping plans to revoke the license, including Atlantia paying 3.4 billion euros in compensation and accepting harsher rules on road tariffs.

The source said the government also did not want to drop the new legislation, while the Benettons were now reluctant for Atlantia to lose control of Autostrade.

If no agreement is in sight by the end of June, Autostrade will be forced to decide whether to launch a procedure to hand back its licence and ask for compensation to protect its shareholders, the Autostrade source said.

Any legal battle could end up slowing down vital investments in developing and upkeeping the system.

Editing by Kirsten Donovan

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