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Atlantia, Hochtief brace for sealed bid contest in Abertis battle - sources

Atlantia, Hochtief brace for sealed bid contest in Abertis battle - sources
From Reuters - December 6, 2017

LONDON/MILAN/DUSSELDORF (Reuters) - Atlantia (ATL.MI) and Hochtief (HOTG.DE) are preparing to improve rival offers for Spains toll-road operator Abertis in a nearly 20 billion euro takeover battle that is likely to be resolved by sealed bids early next year, sources close to the talks said.

The tussle that began in May pits Italys largest motorway operator against the German arm of Spanish builder ACS (ACS.MC), drawing in an army of banks in Europes biggest deal this year.

ACS, led by boss Florentino Perez, is currently in the lead having submitted a higher bid on Oct. 18 that values Abertis at 17.1 billion euros.

Atlantia, controlled by the Benetton family, is expected to make a counter-bid early next year once Spanish regulators complete a review of Hochtiefs bid approach.

Atlantias takeover plan has already been vetted by regulators in Spain and in the EU.

Several sources said Atlantia, advised by Credit Suisse (CSGN.S) and Mediobanca (MDBI.MI), is looking to make a modest increase to Hochtiefs cash and share bid early next year, but it will not call it its best and final offer.

The Rome-based firm would then make a knock-out offer at the end of the investors acceptance period as part of the so-called blind bid contest, they said.

They will keep fighting till the end, said a source working with one of the parties. For both companies winning this deal is an absolute priority.

Atlantia and Hochtief declined to comment, while ACS was not immediately available.

Sources familiar with the negotiations said the bid battle will not be resolved until March or April.

Under Spanish law, the bidders competing to buy a publicly-listed company are invited to make their best and final bid over the last five days of an investors acceptance period, which starts immediately after the regulatory review and lasts 30 days.

The sources said both bidders were gearing up for this final arm-wrestling contest as they are both in a position to sweeten their bids a few more times.

Atlantia has so far kept its cards close to its chest and is waiting for the Spanish watchdog to give Hochtief the green light, which is expected between late January and early February.

The Rome-based company has had lengthy discussions with banks over its financial capacity and is confident it can significantly improve its 15.6 billion-euro offer, the sources said.

Any new Atlantia bid would force the Spanish watchdog to stop the clock and review the improved offer within three days. If the bid is approved, the watchdog can then restart the acceptance period or potentially extend it.

GREAT EXPECTATIONS

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