“With Friends Like These…” Spain Tries to Scupper Italian Takeover of “Strategic” Company
The race is on in Spain to stop Atlantia SpA, an Italian infrastructure group majority owned by the Benetton family, from buying Barcelona-based toll-road operator Abertis Infraestructuras SA. Atlantia SpA made a €16.3-billion ($19 billion) bid for Abertis back in May. Thanks to the fact Atlantia can borrow money at an absurdly low rate (grazie mille, Signor Draghi), most of its bid is in cash.
Spain’s government has taken a keen interest in proceedings. “It doesn’t please us at all,” said senior government sources in May. The Rajoy government claims that the motorways controlled by Abertis, both in Spain and overseas, as well as its majority stake in Hispasat, the world’s ninth largest satellite operator, represent national strategic assets.
The biggest concern appears to be over the prospect of decisions pertaining to Abertis’ assets being made in another European capital, though according to sources cited by Expansión, the real reason is that the Spanish government “doesn’t want Abertis in Italian hands — it’s as simple as that.”
Spain’s Ministries of Development and Energy have even urged Spain’s market regulator, the CNMV, to block Atlantia’s takeover bid on the grounds that the Italian company did not ask for the government’s prior approval before tabling the bid. It’s a curious pretext given that the Chinese company Cosco did not request the Spanish government’s prior blessing before acquiring Noatum, the largest maritime terminals operator in Spain, which surely also qualifies as a key national strategic asset. Nor did the US private equity fund that owned Noatum before Cosco…