Corporate activity in Spain is gaining momentum with ACS’s offer to buy the Italian concessionary group ASPI (Autostrade per l’a Italia) from its partner Atlantia. ASPI has 3,000 kilometres of toll roads. The aim is to create a giant in the concessions business, with the union of Autostrade and its subsidiary Abertis, and ACS would be willing to make the purchase in the company of other investors – there is talk of the Italian group CDP. The offer would be for 10 billion euros, exceeding that presented by the Italian public bank CDP, which has the backing of the Italian government, and the funds Blackstone and Macquarie. It transpires that the TCI fund, Atlantia’s shareholder, supports ACS’s offer but would ask for it to be improved to 12 billion euros.
At the beginning of this week, ACS chairman, Florentino Pérez, confirmed to analysts his plans for the operation. The aim is to create a large European infrastructure group linked to motorways, using a large part of the 5 billion euros it will receive from the sale of its industrial division to Vinci.
However, the executive clarified that any move in this direction will always have to to count with “the wishes of the Italian government.” The latter is the first interested in acquiring the transalpine motorways, after an agreement that forced Atlantia to put them up for sale following the collapse of a bridge in Genoa in the summer of 2018.
This is where some analysts see the biggest problems for this bid to go ahead. According to Intermoney:
“If, as seems logical, the purchase of ASPI were to be carried out through Abertis, what we would have would be that Atlantia would continue to control ASPI, even consolidating it globally; politically, from an Italian public opinion point of view, we believe it would be more than complicated to justify closing the Morandi tragedy in this way.”
“In the unlikely event that ACS decided to take over ASPI on its own, we believe it will be difficult for Italy to hand over control of such a large amount of infrastructure to a foreign company. Particularly when it is competing in the bidding against the state itself. We think the process of selling ASPI will drag on for months, at the same time as ACS hopefully obtains authorisation for the sale of Industrial Services, for which it will garner €5 bln.”
“We believe that a purchase of the Italian group via Abertis would force the latter to increase capital by, let’s say, half of the investment, at most €5 billion. Of this, in theory half, €2.5 billion, would correspond to ACS, an amount perfectly within its reach; in fact, the Spanish group would still have funds to undertake the move we believe would make the most sense: the purchase of the minority shareholders of Cimic, which would involve an investment of approximately €1.2 billion.
ASPI is one of Europe’s largest motorway concession groups, with 3,000 km of motorways in Italy. In 2019, excluding the provision for the Genoa tragedy (€1.5billion), it generated EBITDA of €2.2 billion. The agreement between Atlantia and the Italian state, in addition to a reduction in tolls, includes capex commitments of more than €3 billion over the next few years. Most of ASPI’s toll roads are due to expire in 2038. As of December 2020, ASPI had a net debt position of close to €8.5 billion, of which 80% corresponds to bonds, currently rated below investment grade.