Ardian, F2i open taps on Italian gas

The fund managers have increased their stake in the country’s second-largest distribution network, six months after F2i passed the €600m halfway mark in its latest fundraising effort.

A consortium formed of France’s Ardian and Italian infrastructure specialist F2i has acquired an additional 14.8 percent stake in Enel Rete Gas, an Italian gas distributor, for €122.4 million.

Both fund managers already owned 85.1 percent of the company, which they bought in June 2009 from Italian utility Enel SpA for €480 million. They now hold 99 percent of the business.

Expected to close by end 2013, the sale will be carried out by a joint vehicle in which F2i and Ardian will respectively own a 55 percent and 45 percent stake.

The transaction includes the repayment of a €177 million vendor loan granted by Enel SpA in 2009. This will be financed via a fresh €210 million credit issued by Banca IMI, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, BNP Paribas’s Italian branch, Crédit Agricole Corporate and Investment Bank, Mediobanca – Banca di Credito Finanziario and UniCredit.

F2i will fund its investment through its F2i II vehicle, which it is currently raising with a target of €1.2 billion. The fund, which passed the €610 million mark last June, is now 25 percent invested. It will likely be smaller than the firm’s pre-crisis maiden fund, which raised €1.85 billion in 2008.

Ardian, which completed its spin-out from insurer AXA in September, will finance the deal via the latest generation of its infrastructure funds. The firm raised €1.75 million for the third vehicle of the series last March, which closed on €1.45 million plus €300 million committed by investors for investments outside the fund.

Enel Rete Gas is the second largest gas distributor in Italy, with a market share of 17 percent and more than 3.8 million users. In 2012, the company dispensed around 5.8 billion cubic meters of gas to 2,000 cities, according to a statement issued by Ardian.

Enel Rete Gas was the first instance of collaboration between Ardian and F2i, but it is not the sole one. In June 2011, the fund managers jointly acquired G6 Rete Gas, GDF Suez’s Italian gas network, for €772 million. They had previously purchased the Italian gas network of German utility E.On in April of the same year.