MILAN (Reuters) - After taking over Spain’s Abertis, Italian infrastructure group Atlantia is ready to sell assets to reduce debt and fund growth should the right opportunity come along, its top executives said on Thursday.
The group reported a bigger than expected fall in its net profit last year due to charges linked to the collapse of a bridge operated by its motorway unit and higher costs.
It cut its dividend and said net debt after the acquisition had jumped to nearly 38 billion euros (32.5 billion pounds), or 5.2 times its earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) from 2.6 times at end-2017.
“Deleveraging is the name of the game,” said CEO Giovanni Castellucci, speaking on a conference call with analysts.
The group — which manages Rome’s airports, a series of motorways in Italy and several roads in Latin America — could sell minority stakes in its motorway unit Autostrade per l’Italia and open up the capital of its toll-road payment unit Telepass in the future, Castellucci said.
“It is not urgent, but if the right opportunity arises...,” said Atlantia’s Head of Corporate Finance Massimo Sonego.
Atlantia, majority owned by the Benetton family, could set up a vehicle to co-invest with financial partners in airports, he said.
Last years Atlantia bought Abertis in a joint takeover with ACS, the Spanish builder headed by Florentino Perez, the chairman of soccer club Real Madrid.
The acquisition has created the world’s biggest motorway operator, managing 14,000 kilometres of roads.
For 2018, Atlantia consolidated Abertis in its accounts for the last two months of the year, with a positive impact on EBITDA and revenues.
Aside from the acquisition, the group is also having to cope with the aftermath of a bridge disaster last year.
On Aug. 14 a motorway viaduct operated by Autostrade collapsed, killing 43 people. Atlantia has pledged to pay for the reconstruction of the bridge and compensation for families of the victims.
The company was forced to book additional provisions for the disaster, with a negative impact on last year’s EBITDA of 513 million euros.
After the charges, core profit came in at 3.768 billion euros, including the positive contribution from Spain’s Abertis.
Net profit was 818 million euros, down 30 percent compared with the previous year.
The company proposed a dividend of 0.90 euros per share, down 26 percent.
After the bridge disaster, the government blamed Autostrade for serious oversights in the collapse of the bridge and has said it intends to revoke its Italian motorway concession.
Atlantia and the Transport Ministry have been exchanging documents on the disaster since August. Castellucci said the issue could take more than a year to solve.
Atlantia and nine of its employees are under judicial investigation, along with the transport ministry, for culpable homicide.
Autostrade per l’Italia, has denied wrongdoing, saying regular, state-supervised inspections had indicated the ageing bridge was safe.
Reporting by Francesca Landini; editing by Agnieszka Flak and Alexandra Hudson