Italian Government Pushes Benetton Family Out of Highway Concession

Luisa Zargani

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MILAN — Shares of the Benetton family’s Atlantia group jumped almost 26 percent by early Wednesday afternoon following the Italian government’s decision to take control of Autostrade per l’Italia, which runs most highways in Italy and is owned by Atlantia.

The government reached an agreement with the Benettons after almost two years, following the collapse of a section of the Morandi bridge in Genoa in August 2018, which caused 43 deaths, evacuations of hundreds of people, and heavy structural damages. Opened in 1967 and part of the A10 highway linking the French and Italian rivieras, the bridge was maintained and operated by Autostrade Per l’Italia, or Aspi. This is the prime Italian highway player and is 88 percent owned by infrastructure company Atlantia. The Benettons’ family holding company Edizione controls 30.25 percent of Atlantia.

Asked to comment on the fact that shares climbed so steeply — and not the other way around — one analyst, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said probably many investors had been short selling and today had to reduce risks whatever the price. Also, since the Benettons reached an agreement with the government, but most details are still to be revealed, investors are inferring the family is not dealing with a gagging treaty. In addition, the government did not follow through with the threat to assign a dedicated commissioner to deal with the revocation.

The government had been threatening to strip Autostrade of its lucrative tollroad business since the fatal crash and accused it of neglecting maintenance of the bridge. Aspi will have to pay a compensation fee of 3.4 billion euros.

The bridge has been rebuilt on a Renzo Piano blueprint and is expected to be inaugurated by the end of the month.

Cassa Depositi e Prestiti, controlled by the Italian State and its financial arm, will take over Aspi with a 51 percent stake and the Benettons will gradually exit Aspi, which is expected to eventually be publicly listed.

The Benettons will have no seats on the Aspi board.

The deadly collapse also became a battleground for political parties, all converging in turning Atlantia — and therefore the Benetton family — into the scapegoat responsible for the tragedy.

Atlantia is controlled by the Benettons’ Edizione srl, which, as reported, saw a 70 percent decrease in 2019 net profit, falling to 55 million euros from 184 million euros in 2018.

The company attributed the drop to increased financial charges connected to the acquisition of the Spanish toll road management Abertis and to a decrease in dividends distributed by companies that Edizione controls, in particular Atlantia, active in the infrastructure sector, including motorways, airport infrastructure and transport services.

Edizione controls diversified investments including food and beverage and real estate. 

In the 12 months ended Dec. 31, revenues rose 36 percent to 17.9 billion euros, boosted by the consolidation of Abertis, which closed 2018 with sales of 13.1 billion euros.

Edizione’s clothing and textile division represented 6.8 percent of total sales, ringing in at 1.23 billion euros.

Infrastructures accounted for 62.6 percent of the total with sales of 11.2 billion euros. Food services represented 30.1 percent of the total with sales of 5.4 billion euros. 

In 2019, Edizione’s operating profit totaled 1.9 billion euros, down 4 percent compared with 2018, impacted by the provision of 1.5 billion euros made by Autostrade per l’Italia linked to the alleged non-compliance dispute following the collapse of the Morandi bridge.

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