Italian motorway operator Atlantia and Spanish construction group ACS have turned from rivals to corporate allies after agreeing terms to jointly take over Spain’s Abertis.
The move to create a broader business partnership will help the two European groups compete internationally and ends an escalating eight-month bidding war for the Spanish highway concessions group.
The Spanish government had also become involved with some ministers coming out against the bid by Atlantia and trying to keep the toll road operator in Spanish hands.
But on Wednesday, in part due to fears from both sides that a bidding war would end in an expensive victory for the eventual winner, Atlantia and ACS agreed to joint ownership of the company, according to statements from the two companies.
ACS and Atlantia have struck a deal to create a holding company to own Abertis in which the Italians will take a 50 per cent stake plus one share while ACS — along with the German company it controls Hochtief — will take the rest.
Abertis will be delisted, but won’t be broken up and will remain Spanish.
Another reason for the joint deal was the desire to win the support of the Spanish state.
While there was little the Spanish government could do to block the bid by Atlantia legally, it was seen as important that the offer had the blessing of the government.
Abertis relies on the Spanish government renewing its highway concessions.
But the announcement on Wednesday goes beyond just a deal to split the ownership of Abertis.
ACS and Atlantia have also agreed a broader partnership, with the battle for control of Abertis leaving both groups concluding that they would be better off working together rather than apart, according to people close to the deal.
The Italian group will take an almost 25 per cent stake in the German group Hochtief as part of this deal, said the two companies.
One rationale is that Atlantia, as a large concessions group, has deep pockets and can raise cheaper financing than ACS, making it a potentially useful partner.
At the same time ACS and Hochtief have exposure to markets, such as in Australia, where Atlantia is not present.
ACS and Atlantia said in a statement on Wednesday that they wanted a long-term accord to “maximise strategic relationships and synergies” between the two companies.
The new deal also potentially frees capital for Atlantia, which has just agreed to buy a €1.1bn stake in Eurotunnel, to seek more acquisitions to expand outside Italy.
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