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Fund F2i is interested in auction of Telecom Italia’s towers unit and looks for a partner for Metroweb, CEO Ravanelli says

by Cheo Condina

There are many projects in the future of state-backed private equity fund F2i. To start with, a strong interest in the auction of Inwit (Telecom Italia’s towers unit), perhaps in partnership with Spain’s Cellnex, with whom “dialogue is very strong and positive.”

Then, a decision “soon” on the partner that will accompany Metroweb in the new plan that will bring the ultra-broadband network to main Italian cities (starting from Naples, Florence, Venice and Rome). And, in 2017, the launch of a third fund, even more international, “which will be the travel companion of Italian companies abroad,” said Renato Ravanelli, chief executive of equity fund F2i, in an interview with Il Sole 24 Ore-Italy24. Shareholders of F2i are state-owned CDP (Cassa depositi e Prestiti), banks Intesa Sanpaolo and UniCredit, Ardian, China Investment Corporation, National Pension Service, nine bank Foundations and two pension funds.

F2i funds aim to “consolidate its presence in the sectors where it already operates but also to invest in new segments” where there are real possibilities of consolidation, privatizations and important regulatory changes (for example, the unbundling).

The manager also gave an overview of the financial and industrial results achieved, thanks to a portfolio of 12 companies which operate – some as leaders – in eight sectors, with combined gross operating profits (EBITDA) of €1 billion.

“With capital raised by the second fund, the weight of foreign investors has risen from 20% to 41%, especially thanks to 19% from Asia, in particular by China’s CIC and the Korean pension fund NPS,” the CEO said.

The future steps are crucial, “since we are talking of qualified interlocutors of high level which could also invest directly in F2i generating, between equity and eventual debt, a leverage effect important for the entire country. In general, between the first and the second fund, we have 59 investors and €3 billion of assets under management.”

As for the projects in the pipeline, Ravanelli said that significant progress has been made. From the upcoming gas auctions, where 21 Rete Gas is the second Italian operator and aims at growing further, to water, where, in partnership with Iren, there is opportunity to consolidate a market “very fragmented and with strong public presence.”

From airports, where F2i “is very favorable to the merger between SEA (Milan airports operator, Ed’s note) and SACBO (Bergamo airport operator, Ed’s note) with a possible final IPO,” to the solar industry, where the recent 50-50% joint venture with Enel Green Power aims to rise from current 250 MW to 500 MW in one and a half year with a final target of 1 GW.

All this, without forgetting possible developments in the wind sector, where F2i is the second operator in Italy in partnership with Edison, and SIA (of which F2i owns 17%), the Italian leader in electronic payments, “which now looks at Europe to play a leading role in consolidation ahead of a possible debut on the stock market.”

For now, the most important dossiers concern Telecom’s towers and Metroweb. Ravanelli was clear about Inwit, whose control will soon be up for sale by the telecoms group (it currently owns 60%): “We are paying close attention. A possible partnership with Cellnex? With the Spanish the dialogue is very strong and positive.”

In the past days, insiders indicated that F2i, which had already participated in the auction for Wind’s towers, as a possible buyer of Inwit. That time, the race was won by Abertis, which controls Cellnex.
Finally, there is Metroweb, the ultra-broadband company, where F2i plans to choose its partner soon.

“The possible partner? We will decide soon, the time has come,” the CEO said. “We have two advanced negotiating tables, with Telecom Italia and Wind-Vodafone: we will look at what is necessary in terms of investments but also at the resources to fund them. We want an agreement to make Metroweb’s plan more profitable.” This is also why the option of working with Enel is not ruled out for now. “We welcome partnerships to reduce the cost of investment.”