(Adds extra context on the role at Telecom Italia)
Nov 2 (Reuters) – What do the bids for Italy’s biggest highway operator have in common involving Macquarie and Blackstone and a hedge fund campaign for board seats in the country’s top telecommunications group? The answer is Cassa Depositi e Prestiti (CDP) which is featured in both.
The 170-year-old Italian state-backed lenders and investors, led by CEO Fabrizio Palermo, have played an increasingly active role at Italy Inc in recent years to keep strategic assets in national hands and reduce the economic damage caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Currently, it has 35 billion euros ($ 40.8 billion) invested in funds and companies ranging from oil giant Eni to plasma derivative specialist Kedrion – a number set to increase in the coming months.
And what is most interesting is that the debt is not accounted for as part of a huge public debt pile in Italy.
Below is an overview of the most recent transactions brokered by CDP investing savings made by Italians through the Poste Italiane national post office network.
A consortium led by the CDP involving investment funds Macquarie and Blackstone is in talks with Italian infrastructure group Atlantia to buy its 88% stake in highway unit Autostrade per l’Italia in a deal worth 9 billion euros. CDP can get 40% from the tender company.
If the CDP is successful, more than 3,000 km of roadways will return under effective state control, drawing a line under the fierce dispute between Atlantia and the government that has its roots in the collapse of the deadly Genoa bridge in 2018.
In the coming months CDP will become a leading shareholder in French stock market operator Euronext and a major investor in the Milan stock exchange group, which manages the Italian stock market and government bond platform MTS.
With 7.3% of Euronext, CDP will own the same stake as its French counterpart Caisse des Depots.
CDP is working with Euronext and Italy’s biggest bank Intesa Sanpaolo to agree to buy Borsa Italiana from the London Stock Exchange in a 4.3 billion euro deal last month.
CDP is orchestrating a merger between Italy’s Nexi and smaller rival SIA to create a dominant domestic payments group. Nexi is now in exclusive talks to buy Nordic rival Net.
Prior to the potential deal with the Nets, CDP was expected to own a quarter of Nexi-SIA, making it the largest single investor, followed by private equity owners Nexi, Advent, Bain Capital and Clessidra. CDP has invested 240 million euros to get nearly 50% of SIA.
TELECOM AND BROADBAND
CDP has built a 10% stake in the former state telephony monopoly Telecom Italia, which is valued at 630 million euros at current market prices, to offset the influence of French media group Vivendi, which is the largest shareholder in a company it deems strategic.
In a bid to ease Vivendi’s grip on Italian telephone groups, the CDP sided with US activist fund Elliott at a major shareholder meeting to appoint a new board of directors in 2018.
CDP is interested in creating a unified national operator that combines the network assets of Telecom Italia with its smaller rival Open Fiber, a broadband network operator in which CDP is investing 360 million euros for a 50% stake.
Sovereign lenders will be leading shareholders in every champion of a new network designed to give businesses and homes a fast connection and close Italy’s digital divide. CDP will have the authority to examine strategic issues regarding new network operators.
Under ‘Project Italy’, CDP joined forces with construction company Webuild to organize a joint rescue of small rival Astaldi to create national power and revive the country’s ailing construction industry.
CDP guaranteed a 250 million euro capital increase in Webuild to acquire an 18.7% stake in the group. ($ 1 = 0.8583 euros) (Reporting by Francesca Landini, Stephen Jewkes, Elvira Pollina, Valentina Za Editing by Keith Weir)