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Bell tolls for Abertis: highway operator may be swallowed

2 min

Milan (AFP)

Abertis, the world's top operator of highways, is set to be acquired by Italian rival Atlantia and Spanish construction group ACS after Atlantia said Wednesday the two firms reached a deal to make a joint offer.

As shares in Abertis and ACS were frozen on the Madrid stock market, Atlantia said that a preliminary agreement had been reached on making a joint offer.

The two firms have been vying for months for Abertis, which says it is the largest highway operator in the world with more than 8,300 kilometres (5,100 miles) of highways in 12 countries in Europe and the Americas.

Atlantia, which builds and operates highways in Italy and whose top shareholder is the Benetton family, first made an offer for Abertis in May.

ACS, whose president Florentino Perez owns the Real Madrid football club, jumped into the fight in October via its German subsidiary Hochtief.

Spanish business daily Expansion said earlier this week a deal between Atlantia and ACS was likely being driven by a desire to avoid spoiling the financial attractiveness of a deal with a bidding war.

According to Spanish business daily Cinco Dias, the deal implies keeping the headquarters of Abertis in Spain.

Atlantia had for months run up against the reticence of Madrid over the company passing into foreign hands as its satellite subsidiary Hispasat handles most Spanish government communications. Abertis had taken moves to sell off Hispasat.

Analysts said a joint offer could also see Atlantia and ACS split up most of the assets held by Abertis, while retaining the Spanish character of the firm.

Atlantia shares climbed 0.4 percent in morning trading on the Milan stock exchange, which was up 0.2 percent overall.

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