(Releads after board meeting, adds comments from economy minister, sources and Spinecap)
MILAN, Sept 3 (Reuters) - Italy’s Atlantia agreed on Thursday to set up a separate company to hold assets of tollways operator Autostrade per l’Italia prior to a bourse listing as it seeks to resolve months of wrangling over the future of the unit.
Atlantia said the new company, Autostrade Concessioni e Costruzioni, would acquire all or part of Atlantia’s 88% stake in Autostrade ahead of the “planned partial, proportional spin-off and subsequent stock market flotation.”
A detailed spin-off plan would be approved at a future board meeting. A new board meeting is expected on Sept. 10.
Atlantia, controlled by the powerful Benetton family, agreed in July to pull out of Autostrade following the 2018 collapse of a motorway bridge run by the unit, in which 43 people died.
The case, which exposed years of neglect and mismanagement, created heavy political pressure on the Benetton family to divest its stake or risk losing its lucrative motorway operating concession.
But progress has been slowed by difficulties in agreeing a valuation for the unit with state lender Cassa Depositi e Prestiti (CDP), which is due to take control of Autostrade under the spin-off plan favoured by the government.
Economy Minister Roberto Gualtieri said on Thursday he was “moderately confident” a solution could be found. But people close to the talks said more time was needed to resolve issues including valuation of Autostrade, a financial plan, future liability and debt of the new company.
“I think we need a week just to understand if it’s possible to reach an agreement,” said one person close to the dossier, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Another person said the parties were discussing an option that would see Atlantia spin off at least 70% of Autostrade into the new vehicle, with CDP then taking control through a reserved capital increase, backed by allied investors.
Atlantia has reserved the right to sell its Autostrade holding through an auction if no agreement is reached with CDP although sources said the government was against that option.
On Wednesday shares in Atlantia surged on a Bloomberg report saying a deal was near and that Autostrade would be valued at 11 billion euros ($13.00 billion), excluding debt, by the two contenders. The share closed down 6% on Thursday.
Investment fund Spinecap, a minority Atlantia investor, told Reuters it had filed a complaint with the EU Commission over government pressure on Atlantia to shed Autostrade. (Additional reporting by Stefano Bernabei and Giuseppe Fonte in Rome Editing by Susan Fenton and Alexandra Hudson)
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