Spanish-owned UK airport operator Abertis to merge with Italy’s Autostrade

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Spanish transport infrastructure group Abertis, which owns Belfast, Cardiff and Luton airports is to merge with Italy’s toll road group Autostrade.

The merger of equals, involving a one-for-one share exchange, will lead to the creation of an infrastructure management company with a market capitalisation of “close to €25 billion ($31 billion)”, Abertis says. The companies’ directors are expected to approve the merger process at meetings next week.

The merger is expected to come into force during the fourth quarter of 2006 and Abertis promises “growth abroad with infrastructure investments on a global scale, a progressive growth dividend policy and maintenance of credit rating of single ‘A’ with stable outlook.” Shares in both companies traded up following news of the deal although according to Italian press reports the country’s newly-formed centre-left coalition has raised doubts over the deal.

Abertis says the merger will be referred to Italy’s regulator by the end of July to ascertain whether it presents competition issues, in which case it would be referred to the European Commission. However  “the companies cannot see any obstacles because of regulatory risk.”

The groups do not foresee restructuring or reorganisation as a result of the merger because of the complementary nature of their businesses, Abertis says. “This is a merger of the holding companies - all operated businesses will be managed and run the same way.” Abertis’s current chief executive Salvador Alemany will become chief executive of the merged company, whose headquarters will be located in Barcelona and which will be listed on the Madrid and Milan stock exchanges.

Abertis took control of Belfast International, Cardiff and London Luton airports last year when it bought UK-based TBI last year.

The deal comes as UK airports operator BAA is fighting off a hostile takeover attempt from Spanish infrastructure company Ferrovial.