Abertis sells Atlantia stake in a few hours

The Spanish toll road operator has concluded the sale of its 6.68% stake in Italian counterpart Atlantia for €15.6 per share, or €626m. The sale was conducted as a private placement with Nomura International acting as sole bookrunner. Mediobanca advised Abertis on the deal.

In a lightning fast update to the market, Spanish toll road operator Abertis has announced the conclusion of the sale of its entire minority stake in Italian peer Atlantia just a couple of hours after it had announced the start of the sale process.

Earlier this morning, Abertis, which owned 6.68 percent of Atlantia, said it would sell its stake in the Italian firm via a private placement over the course of two days. But it took just a few hours for Abertis to sell the minority stake at €15.6 per share or €626 million. Market speculation had said Abertis was targeting a price of between €15.4 and €15.6 per share.

The Spanish firm said the sale will net it consolidated gains of some €151 million and that, once concluded, it will amount to an internal rate of return of 17 percent on its original investment. Nomura International acted as sole bookrunner for the private placement with Mediobanca providing financial advisory services.

An Abertis spokesman said the stake sale was in line with the company’s previous plans. He said Abertis always saw its investment in Atlantia from a financial perspective, and had been awaiting the best time to sell its holding in the Italian firm. Abertis’ 14.6 percent stake in Portuguese toll road operator Brisa is also seen as a target for divestment.

During the takeover process that eventually culminated with private equity firm CVC Capital Partners acquiring a 15.55 percent stake in Abertis from shareholder ACS in August last year, there were many rumours that CVC and ACS were considering non-core asset sales in Abertis to help repay the debt used in the acquisition. But the Abertis spokesman stressed that was not the reason for the sale.

Others see it differently, though. Mirabaud analyst Javier Mielgo Miguel wrote in a research note that: “This movement confirms our prospects about the entrance of CVC in the capital structure provoking the acceleration of the divestment of financial stakes in Atlantia and Brisa, and the possibility of an extraordinary dividend with the funds obtained, between 1.4 and 1.5 euros per share, in 2012.”

Abertis’ investment in Atlantia dates to 1999, when the Italian group was still called Autostrade. The Spanish firm was part of a consortium called Schema 28, in which it held 13.33 percent, that eventually acquired more than 50 percent of Autostrade. In 2006, Abertis and Autostrade tried to merge, a process which was eventually derailed by the Italian government. Two years later, Autostrade spun-off into concessions group Atlantia.