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Long-running saga comes to end as GNV’s new owners take charge

Date: 18 Dec 2006 00:00 Source: Lloyds List

After a dogged chase in which a Who’s Who of the Italian financial world featured as potential buyers, three private equity funds led by long-running favourite Investitori Associati have taken control of Genoa ferry company Grandi Navi Veloci.

The deal will see London-based fund Permira sell off its 80% share in the company at a substantial profit after two and a half years of control and the Grimaldi family, led by GNV’s founder Aldo Grimaldi. reduce its stake from 20% to 13%. The value of the deal was not disclosed, though sources suggest it valued the company at close to €680m ($795m).

Under the terms of the deal Investitori Associati takes a 59.5% stake in GNV, with fellow funds Gruppo De Agostini and Charme taking 17.5% and 8% respectively.

Newly appointed managing director Silvano Cassano, a veteran of clothing giant Benetton, will take a 2% share.

The reported valuation of GNV has startled the market, with some observers describing it as an unusually high price for a company with less-than-impressive profits operating an expensive fleet in an increasingly competitive market.

GNV claimed earnings of €60m last year on revenues of €251m, and sources estimate growth in double digits for 2006, but the company does not discuss its debt load or annual interest payments.

In defence of the price sources close to the company cite the value of its order book at a time when slots at shipyards capable of building high-quality ferries are at a premium.

Grimaldi Holdings has four small ships now on order at the Nuovi Cantieri Apuania yard in Marina di Carrara and four more options available for a potential outlay of €450m. They will be chartered to GNV.

The first of these 23,000 dwt vessels, with capacity for 400 passengers, 120 cars and 3,000 line metres of cargo, is due for delivery in January with the rest at six-month intervals thereafter.

The new owners will also be counting on market growth. Italy’s geography makes it a natural source of business for the motorways of the sea but the sector remains relatively undeveloped.

The future of state-subsidised giant Tirrenia was doubtless also a consideration, with the government pushing for a four-year extension of the subsidy regime permitted by the European Commission to 2012, and the private operators fierce in their opposition.

Ferry operators both in Italy and outside are watching the situation closely, eager to cash in when the time comes.

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