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Benettons Said to Weigh Autogrill M&A Options for Expansion (2/10/16)

Autogrill has held preliminary meetings with advisers

Benetton family open to reducing Autogrill stake in deal

Italy’s billionaire Benetton family is searching for a partner for its Autogrill SpA restaurant chain, which has held preliminary meetings with advisers to explore its growth options, people familiar with the matter said.

The advisers have pitched several merger and acquisition options for Autogrill, the world’s biggest manager of highway restaurants, to the Italian clan, said the people, who asked not to be named as the talks are private. The Benettons, who are open to reducing their 50 percent holding in the company, are still reviewing proposals and may decide on a deal this year, the people said. Representatives for the Benetton family and Autogrill declined to comment.

The Benettons are seeking partners for businesses ranging from their eponymous clothing chain to highway restaurants and airport operations as they revamp their $12 billion Edizione Srl investment vehicle. The holding company is also evaluating purchases after boosting its cash pile by 1.3 billion euros ($1.45 billion) with the sale of a majority stake in airport retailer World Duty Free to Dufry AG in March.

Chairman Gilberto Benetton has turned down proposals from bankers pitching investments ranging from stakes in Italian cooperative banks to a paper producer as he wants Edizione to transform itself into a “sovereign fund” that manages minority holdings in diversified industries. At the same time, the family is restructuring its flagship apparel maker before looking for an fashion-industry partner by the end of next year.

Autogrill’s talks with advisers could lead to small bolt-on acquisitions or partnerships for the parent company or its subsidiaries, the people said. The main alternatives would involve either buying a competitor or seeking a deal with a restaurant chain outside the highway service-area concession business, they said.

Autogrill was temporarily suspended in Milan trading after rising as much as 10 percent to 6.84 euros, giving it a market value of 1.74 billion euros. The stock was up 11 percent to 6.88 euros at 1:50 p.m.

The family is open to acquisitions for Autogrill, Gilberto Benetton told La Repubblica in an interview in November.

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