Investors turn on motorway operator after Genoa disaster

Shares in toll-road group Atlantia fall 22.3% as death toll from bridge collapse rises to 39

The collapsed Morandi Bridge is seen in the Italian port city of Genoa. Photograph: Reuters

The collapsed Morandi Bridge is seen in the Italian port city of Genoa. Photograph: Reuters

 

Italy’s biggest toll-road operator came under heavy stock market attack on Thursday after Rome criticised it for a deadly bridge collapse this week, moving to revoke its concession and accusing it of failing to ensure the viaduct’s safety.

An 80m-long section of the bridge, part of a motorway linking the port city of Genoa with southern France, gave way on Tuesday in busy lunchtime traffic, sending dozens of vehicles into free-fall and killing at least 39 people.

Autostrade per l’Italia, part of Milan-listed international toll-road group Atlantia and owned by Italy’s Benetton family, operated the motorway. It has said it made regular and thorough safety checks on the 1.2 km-long bridge, completed in 1967 and overhauled two years ago.

But the government has turned on Autostrade for the disaster, threatening it with heavy fines and demanding it contribute to the bridge’s reconstruction, though investigators have yet to identify the exact cause of the collapse.

Shares in Atlantia, its parent company, fell 22.3 per cent on Thursday and left investors led by the Benetton family facing steep losses. Edizione, a Benetton family holding company, has a 30.25 per cent stake in Atlantia.

Clothing brand

The Benetton family controls one of Italy’s largest business groups, with interests spanning infrastructure, catering, telecoms and finance as well as the well-known clothing brand. Edizione had revenues of €12 billion in 2017.

Atlantia has an 88 per cent stake in Autostrade. Its concession to run Italian motorways is not due to expire until 2038. The concession made up more than half of the group’s €3.8 billion ebitda last year.

It’s not possible that someone pays a toll to die. That bridge should have been closed before this tragedy happened

The group has other businesses, including airports in France and highways in Brazil. But Italian toll roads are the bedrock of its activities. The long-term deal helps it to source low financing rates for other activities. Net debt is equal to about four times ebitda. Without the income from Italian roads, this debt could be hard to finance. The cost of insuring the group’s bonds against default has hit a five-year high.

Shares in other toll-road firms such as SIAS and ASTM also fell, after deputy prime minister Luigi Di Maio said the state would have to take over the country’s motorways if concession-holders could not do the job properly.

“It’s not possible that someone pays a toll to die,” Mr Di Maio said. “Those who were supposed to do the maintenance work did not do it properly. That bridge should have been closed before this tragedy happened.”

“The profits that these companies make as monopolies anger many people . . . a lot of money should have been invested in security, but instead it went towards dividends.”

Main artery

Shipping industry sources said the collapse, which severed the main artery feeding Genoa’s Voltri container terminal, had yet to impact on port operations but was likely in coming months to ripple through the wider supply chain.

A spokeswoman for Denmark’s AP Moller Maersk, which owns the world’s largest container shipping line, said: “Reaching Genoa will remain challenging in the coming period but main connections from/to Vado and main inland markets will not be affected.”

Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte declared a state of emergency for Genoa, one of Italy’s busiest ports, whose main land corridor with France has effectively been severed.

Autostrade said it had relied on world-leading experts when making tests and carrying out inspections on the bridge and that these checks had provided reassuring results.

“These outcomes have formed the basis for maintenance work approved by the transport ministry in accordance with the law and the terms of the concession agreement,” it said.

A source close to the matter said Autostrade per l’Italia would hold an extraordinary board meeting next week following the disaster. – Reuters