“A forced nationalization, an expropriation”. The Benettons attack the government and ask the EU for help


There is an unprecedented passage in the long and very harsh letter that Atlantia – the Benetton holding company that has Autostrade in its belly – sent to Brussels to denounce the “violation of European standards” and a series of “discrimination” by the Government. This passage basically says this: the executive wants to bring about forced nationalization, an expropriation. In this way: either you, Atlantia, surrender your majority stake, in fact selling it off, and thus exit the games or I, Government, revoke the motorway concession. It is the first time that society has said it so clearly, using a term – forcing – which leads to a delicate outcome, very risky for Conte and his team. The outcome is not written in the letter, but first level industrial sources reveal it to HuffPost: Atlantia will not sell its stake under these conditions. And so one of the three solutions that the government is considering putting into action is in crisis.

Thus wrote Atlantia in the key passage, referring to the pressing of the government to make it go into the minority within Autostrade and pave the way for the entrance of the state through the Cassa Depositi e Prestiti and the F2i Fund: “If these intentions were confirmed, we would be faced with a violation of free market rules “because the share would be sold” at a reduced value, generating significant damage to thousands of Italians and foreign investors “. And the Benettons do not want to take a risk: sell off their quota, hand over the highways and then assist the Government that eliminates all the stakes that today have precipitated Autostrade into an unprecedented crisis of fact, with a huge liquidity problem.

Today Autostrade is a company that does not have certainties on revenues, it is not evaluable, it is not in fact salable. Before the approval of the Milleproroghe decree, which lowered from 21 to 6-7 billion the compensation that the state must pay to the company if it revokes the concession, Autostrade had a market value between 14 and 16 billion. Then came the controversial article 35 of the Milleproroghe, the Covid that caused revenues to plummet because the highways remained deserted during the lockdown and today, although reopened, they record negligible collections compared to before. And again: the government said no to the request for the loan of 1.2 billion with the state guarantee and the same decided Cassa Depositi e Prestiti regarding another loan request. The clash with the government, which has lasted for practically two years, the failure to decide on the revocation. All elements that have strongly weakened society. Selling today means selling off. An example is helpful in explaining why the Benettons don’t want to sell on these terms. Whoever is on the market, whether private or state, buys Autostrade for example at 8 billion, the value currently considered more likely. If the Benettons sell, the government could cancel the Milleproroghe rule, grant the loan, find an agreement on tariffs, another divisive theme. The value of the company could return to around 12 billion. Here is the sale: a de facto loss of 4 billion. That for those who buy it becomes a capital gain, that is, the possibility of buying a good at a low price and then seeing it grow in their own hands.

Here then the conditions for being able to sell are precise. Because the Benettons have never hidden their willingness to sell a large share of their share, equal to 88%, but they will do so if there are two important changes. The first: article 35 of the Milleproroghe must be modified, bringing the compensation not to the initial 21 billion, but to a lower value, halfway between what was at the beginning, advantageous for the Benettons, and that established by the Government, obviously advantageous for Conte and his because it means paying out less money in case of termination of the Agreement with Autostrade. In a letter sent to the Government on March 5, Atlantia referred to Enel Distribuzione’s model to explain that it is also okay to settle on a compromise. Second condition that must be met in order to sell: decide that the revocation will not proceed.

It is clear that the second condition is very risky for the government. If he decides not to revoke the concession and then the Benettons do not sell their share, he remains in fact with his hands. With all the political burden because the 5 stars have always promised to make it pay dearly to Atlantia. And the same Count went to Genoa in the aftermath of the tragedy to say that the procedure for the revocation would begin immediately. But the risk is still mitigated by the fact that Atlantia would be ready to sign an agreement that links the decision on the revocation to the commitment to sell. However, there is another element that undermines the government’s strategy. In the dossier that the Minister of Infrastructure and Transport Paola De Micheli handed over to the Prime Minister, there are three possible solutions. The first: revocation of the concession. The second: no revocation, but Autostrade must implement an impressive commitment. So lower tariffs, investments, ordinary and extraordinary maintenance of the network, but also the payment of compensation to the State and the construction of other works that serve the country. The third: the concession remains with Atlantia, but the company must drop from its current controlling stake to 20-30 percent. That is, moving from being the majority shareholder, practically almost unique, to the minority. From here the entrance, as we said, of Cdp and F2i.

The third solution, which brings the positions of the Democratic Party and the 5 stars closer together, thus risks jumping because the Benettons are not willing to sell unless the conditions mentioned above were put in place first. Among other things, the government’s plan is just sketched out and is risky even if the Benettons decide to sell their stake. While the F2i fund went to see the Autostrade data room, that is, to understand how and whether to invest, the same cannot be said for Cdp. There is no price on the pitch because the Cashier has not considered the option to buy the Benetton stake. He has not seen the data room and this is another element that attests how bringing it up doesn’t actually make any sense. And then the same holds true for CDP that applies to any other buyer: who buys the shares of a company that is suffering and on which the sword of Damocles of the revocation of the concession hangs? Already the revocation. Will it be there or not? The government still does not decide. The 5 stars, with Deputy Minister of Infrastructures Giancarlo Cancelleri, goes down heavy: “Atlantia tries again. Writing letters is useless, the time has come to take responsibility. The Morandi bridge collapsed causing death to 43 people and shedding light on a huge file of defaults and falsified maintenance and safety reports to make more profits. Now enough, because if the attempt is to make fun of us and treat us with arrogance, the Benettons have erred in government “. From the Democratic Party pushes to arrive at a decision anyway. Will arrive. Almost two years after the collapse of the Morandi bridge.

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