The acquisition created the world’s biggest toll-road operator. But it was costly. And one of the acquirers, Atlantia of Italy, is now in trouble because its bridge collapsed, killing 43 people.
Recently acquired Spanish toll-road group Abertis has announced one of the biggest special dividends in Spanish history, worth almost €10 billion. That’s roughly the equivalent of half the amount dished out in dividends by all Spanish listed companies last year. And all of it will be transferred to the three rival companies that bought Abertis in a €16.5 billion joint takeover last October:
- Italy’s infrastructure giant, Atlantia, majority owned by the Benetton family
- Spanish construction behemoth, ACS, headed by Real Madrid president Florentino Perez
- ACS’s German subsidiary, Hochtief.
To complete the acquisition, which created the world’s biggest toll-road operator with some 14,000 kilometers of highways under management, the three companies raised €10 billion of fresh debt and €7 billion of equity. By combining their bids, Atlantia and ACS averted a costly bidding war while also assuaging Spanish government fears that all of Abertis’ strategic assets would fall into Italian hands.
Now, the only major loose thread left hanging is what to do with all the debt they took on to buy Abertis. That’s where this new financial operation comes in.
Instead of making the dividend payment in cash, Abertis will assume the entire debt obligations of Abertis Holdco, the holding company Atlantia, ACS and Hochtief set up to execute the takeover — all €9.975 billion of it! In other words, as the Spanish financial daily Expansión points out, Albertis effectively gets to refinance all the debt ACS, Atlantia and Hochtief borrowed last year to purchase it, almost doubling its debt load from €12.5 billion to €22.5 billion…