(Reuters) - What do a bid for Italy's biggest highway operator involving Macquarie and Blackstone BX.N and a hedge fund's campaign for board seats at the country's top telecoms group have in common? The answer is Cassa Depositi e Prestiti (CDP) featured in both.
The 170-year-old Italian state-backed lender and investor, led by CEO Fabrizio Palermo, has played an increasingly active role in Italy Inc in recent years to keep strategic assets in national hands and mitigate the economic ravages of the coronavirus pandemic.
Today it has 35 billion euros (31.5 billion pounds) invested in funds and companies ranging from oil giant Eni ENI.MI to plasma derivative specialist Kedrion - an amount that is set to rise in coming months.
And the icing on the cake is that its debt is not booked as part of Italy’s mammoth public debt-pile.
Here is an overview of recent deals brokered by CDP which invests savings made by Italians through the national post office network Poste Italiane PST.MI.
A consortium led by CDP involving investment funds Macquarie and Blackstone is in talks with Italian infrastructure group Atlantia ATL.MI to buy its 88% stake in motorway unit Autostrade per l'Italia in a deal that could be worth 9 billion euros. CDP could end up with 40% of the bidding company.
If CDP is successful, more than 3,000 km of highways will return under effective state control, drawing a line under a bitter dispute between Atlantia and the government that has its roots in the deadly Genoa bridge collapse in 2018.
In coming months CDP will become one of the leading shareholders' in French stock market operator Euronext ENX.PA and a key investor in Milan's bourse group, which manages both the Italian stock market and government bond platform MTS.
With 7.3% of Euronext, CDP will have the same stake as its French counterpart Caisse des Depots.
CDP teamed up with Euronext and Italy's biggest bank Intesa Sanpaolo ISP.MI to agree to buy Borsa Italiana from London Stock Exchange in a 4.3 billion euro deal last month.
CDP masterminded a merger between Italy's Nexi NEXII.MI and smaller rival SIA to create a dominant domestic payments group. Nexi is now in exclusive talks to buy Nordic rival Nets.
Before a potential deal with Nets, CDP was expected to own a quarter of the Nexi-SIA, making it the single biggest investor, followed by Nexi’s private equity owners Advent, Bain Capital and Clessidra. CDP has invested 240 million euros to get nearly 50% of SIA.
TELECOMS AND BROADBAND
CDP has built a 10% stake in the country' s former phone monopoly Telecom Italia TLIT.MI, which is worth 630 million euros at current market prices, to offset the influence of French media group Vivendi VIV.PA, which is the largest shareholder in a company deemed strategic.
In a bid to reduce Vivendi’s grip on the Italian phone group, CDP sided with U.S. activist fund Elliott at a key shareholder meeting to appoint a new board of directors in 2018.CDP is keen to create a unified national operator merging Telecom Italia’s network assets with those of smaller rival Open Fiber, a broadband network operator in which CDP invested 360 mln euros for a 50% stake. The state-lender would be a prominent shareholder in any new network champion designed to give businesses and homes fast connections and close Italy’s digital divide. CDP will have vetting powers on strategic issues regarding the new network operator.
Under 'Project Italy', CDP joined forces with construction company Webuild WBD.MI to orchestrate a joint rescue of smaller rival Astaldi to create a national force and revive the country's sickly construction industry.
CDP underwrote a 250 million euro capital increase in Webuild to get a 18.7% stake in the group.
Reporting by Francesca Landini, Stephen Jewkes, Elvira Pollina, Valentina Za; Editing by Keith Weir
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