By Stephen Jewkes and Francesca Landini
MILAN (Reuters) – Benetton-led Atlantia <ATL.MI> is in contact with funds in Italy and abroad that may be interested in its motorway unit Autostrade per l’Italia to end a stalemate with the government over its concession, three sources close to the matter said.
Since August 2018, when a motorway bridge operated by the group collapsed killing 43 people, the government and the company have been locked in a bitter dispute.
Before the coronavirus outbreak, Rome repeatedly threatened to strip the group of its motorway concession. A government source said then the ruling coalition had pressured the Benetton family to sell Atlantia’s stake in Autostrade.
Now the infrastructure group is looking to see whether the need for the ruling coalition to boost the economy once the health emergency is over will create conditions for mending fences with the government.
Cutting Atlantia’s stake in Autostrade to under 50% could be part of a compromise with the government, the sources said.
“The group is exploring funds’ interest for a stake in Autostrade,” one of the sources said, adding Italian infrastructure fund F2i could be one of the potential investors tapped by Atlantia.
Australia’s Macquarie Group is looking at Autostrade but there are no formal talks under way, two sources said.
One source said Italy’ state lender CDP could be interested in playing a part in deal with the government.
Atlantia owns 88% of Autostrade, with the rest in the hands of Chinese fund Silk Road and Germany’s Allianz group <ALVG.DE>.
F2i, Macquarie and CDP were not immediately available for comment. Atlantia declined to comment.
The need to boost the economy once lockdown in the country has ended has made Autostrade’s investment plan more interesting for the government, one the sources said, adding contacts between the company and Rome were under way.
“Technical meetings with the transport ministry are in progress to find an agreement over the motorway concession,” the source said.
Autostrade in January pledged to spend 5.4 billion euros in four years in investments on the motorway network it operates. It also earmarked 1.6 billion euros for highway upkeep under its new business plan to 2023.
(Editing by Alison Williams)