CDP, Macquarie and Blackstone pick up 88% stake in Autostrade

Triggered by the collapse of the Genoa Bridge in August 2018, the nearly three-year saga surrounding the Italian motorway has ended, with Atlantia accepting the CDP-led consortium’s €9.3bn offer.

The Italian government’s long-standing threat to revoke the concession for Autostrade per l’Italia (ASPI) – following the 2018 collapse of the Morandi Bridge – is fading into the rearview mirror after parent company Atlantia agreed to sell its entire 88.06 percent stake to a consortium led by state-owned investment bank Cassa Depositi e Prestiti.

CDP will be the majority shareholder with 51 percent, while Macquarie Infrastructure and Real Assets and Blackstone will each hold 24.5 percent. MIRA is funding its portion of the deal through Macquarie European Infrastructure Fund 6, its most recent Europe-focused fund that it closed on €6 billion in June 2019, while Blackstone will be investing through Blackstone Infrastructure Partners, an open-ended vehicle for which it has raised $14 billion to date.

The offer, which amounts to €9.3 billion and gives ASPI an enterprise value of €19 billion, has been approved both by Atlantia’s board and shareholders. But “some execution risks still remain”, Moody’s said in a ratings action report on 7 June, citing a number of conditions, such as the formal approval of ASPI’s financial and economic plan. In addition, “there are still specific points that will need to be finalised before the government formally withdraws its allegations” against the company, though the ratings agency believes the proposed sale will help accelerate the process, resulting in a settlement being reached by the end of the year.

Despite the political and regulatory backlash ASPI and its parent have faced since the Morandi Bridge in Genoa collapsed in August 2018 killing 43 people, from an infrastructure investor’s perspective Autostrade is considered to be a “marquee” asset, a source told Infrastructure Investor, while another source stressed the motorway’s resiliency despite covid-19’s impact.

According to a joint statement, one of the consortium’s objectives is to improve the efficiency of the asset’s infrastructure maintenance programmes “to ensure the highest standards of safety and performance for motorists”.

To that end, the consortium is planning to invest more than €20 billion in the company over the remaining 17 years of the concession term, Infrastructure Investor understands. It also plans to shift human resources within the business from areas that can be automated, such as toll booths, to areas where more resources are needed, such as engineering.

Under the terms of the proposed offer, any pandemic-related relief the Italian government provides to Autostrade after the company has changed hands, its new owners will have to pass on to Atlantia. However, the amount is capped at €300 million.

Another sharing arrangement provides that should any additional costs related to litigation resulting from the bridge collapse arise, Atlantia will be liable for up to €150 million. Any costs above that threshold will be shared between Atlantia and the consortium on a 75:25 basis.

A ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ opportunity

Asked about the decision to pursue this deal, Blackstone and Macquarie declined to comment. CDP did not respond to requests for comment. But one of the sources Infrastructure Investor spoke to noted that it was a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity”.

“Whereas toll roads had been quasi super-core in terms of pricing, the pandemic was creating a bit of uncertainty,” this person said. “This was kind of the window in which to pursue transport or transport-related assets.”

Our second source pointed to Italy’s economic recovery, noting that with the country’s central bank forecasting a 5 percent growth rate this year and a return to pre-covid levels next year, saying, “ASPI as a GDP-linked asset will benefit from this”.

“Traffic has already rebounded strongly from pandemic lows and is now back up to just below 9 percent of pre-covid levels,” this person said.