«Our focus is on networks: from gas to telephone service. Here are F2i’s infrastructure plans»
CEO Ravanelli: «We want to create Italy’s leading
by Francesca Basso
CORRIERE DELLA SERA
If a sector tied to infrastructures is in need of consolidation, that’s where you’ll find F2i, the asset management company led by CEO Renato Ravanelli: «We are an Italian team that invests in Italy on behalf of institutional investors, many of them foreign entities», he explains. The company’s latest area of endeavour is telecommunications, coming after airports, the gas utility network, technological infrastructures, highways, waterworks, the production of energy from renewable sources (wind, sun and biomass) and social infrastructures (social-medical assistance). In mid-July, F2i announced, through its subsidiary 2i Towers, a 1.6 billion euro tender for Ei Towers, to start on August 27th and be concluded on October 5th. «We want to create Italy’s foremost independent operator, a leader in digital terrestrial and telecommunications infrastructures, which represents a sector of strategic importance for the country». And so the competitive manoeuvring in the masts sector started up again. Also in July, Edizione, the holding company of the Benetton family, obtained control of 29.9% of the Spanish enterprise Cellnex, while the same period saw a sharp rise in the value of the shares of Rai Way, the broadcasting towers company of the Rai, Italy’s state broadcaster, and a company that had already been the target of a failed takeover by Ei Tower in 2015.
Why are you entering the telecommunications sector as well?
«The fact is that we are already in telecommunications, with the Irideos platform, which provides broad-band and data-centre services to businesses. But the Ei Towers operation is something else altogether. If the tender is a success, then Mediaset will transfer control of the Ei Towers masts to F2i, which shall manage the infrastructure independently, under market-based criteria. We will have a 60% interest in Ei Towers, and Mediaset a 40% interest, meaning that the latter goes from being the controlling shareholder to the second largest. In play are 2,300 TV broadcasting towers, along with more than a thousand mobile telephone masts, located throughout Italian territory. This operation once again sees F2i, through its Third Fund, acting as the driving force behind investments of both Italian and foreign capital in infrastructure platforms under Italian control».
What is your objective?
«The sector is already on the move, with significant interest shown for mobile telephone service. A neutral, open transmission network will be created, without vertical integration, ready to take into consideration additional operations of consolidation in the future. Our offer is a significant one, at a price of 57 euros per share, which represents a 19% premium over the average value for the last six months. Our objective is to delist Ei Towers, making possible a simplified ownership structure together with increased operating flexibility».
What happens if you don’t reach the 90% minimum threshold you’ve set yourselves?
«We could give up on the takeover initiative and purchase a lower quantity of shares, though still enough to merge Ei Towers into 2i Towers and go through with the delisting».
What are the advantages of this operation?
«The activities that were vertically integrated are split off, seeing that substantial investments in technology focus attention on the core business. When dealing with infrastructures, key factors in staying competitive are the combining of forces, the creation of networks and the achievement of economies of scale. And this is true for all sectors».
Including energy and gas networks?
«Fragmentation never works in favour of efficiency and quality of service. F2i’s goal is to place existing infrastructures in networks in order to promote their growth. Our main investors are pension funds, insurance companies, banking foundations and other long-term investors who have confidence in our Italian team, as well as in Italy’s country system as a whole».
But in the last few months, with a new government coalition having been installed, are foreign investors showing signs of worry?
«We’ve received a good many questions from investors who want to know exactly what’s going on. We reassure them, explaining that Italy’s key underlying factors are solid, with the high level of public debt being offset by the widespread wealth of the country’s families and businesses. Naturally, those who invest in infrastructures want to be sure that the country is stable and, even more importantly, that what happened in the past, when excessively generous subsidies granted to producers of renewable energy were corrected by means of laws applied retroactively, won’t happen again. Instead, we are looking with confidence to new rules and regulations that favour investment and support technological growth».
You have also made overtures regarding the Ascopiave utility, only to receive a less than enthusiastic response from the municipalities involved.
«We have no intention of forcing anybody’s hand, and we fully respect any decisions taken on the local-government level. Still, it is out of step with the times to think that small-scale operations can enjoy solid prospects for the future in the today’s infrastructure or energy sectors. In all the leading countries of Europe, utility companies are colossal enterprises. The Veneto area needs a strong regional operator, in terms of both the quantity of assets managed and its financial solidity. F2i is seeking to promote consolidation on the local level. The alternative is to have outside operators come in and exploit the weaknesses of others. F2i’s relations with local government bodies have always been extremely positive, as shown by its history of past initiatives with the airports of Milan, Turin, Naples and Alghero. We are reliable partners».
“If the tender for Ei Towers is successful, Mediaset will transfer control of the masts to F2i, which shall manage them under market-based criteria”
Renato Ravanelli, F2i CEO
“In the sectors of gas and energy, F2i’s objective is to place existing infrastructures in networks to promote their growth”