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Italy Sounds Out Ukrainian, Indian Investors to Rescue Steel Plant

In Europe
February 23, 2024

(Bloomberg) — Giorgia Meloni’s government is in preliminary talks with domestic, Ukrainian and Indian investors for a potential bid to rescue Italy’s biggest steelmaker.

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Rome is testing the feasibility of a consortium after it moved to place the Acciaierie d’Italia SpA works under special administration, according to people familiar with the issue. The plan is only one of the options that the government is discussing and is at a very early stage, said the people who asked not to be named on a confidential matter.

Arvedi Group, Ukraine’s biggest steelmaker Metinvest B.V. and India’s Vulcan Green Steel — part of Jindal Steel group — are among the firms involved, the people said.

ArcelorMittal SA, which owns 62% of the plant formerly known as Ilva, has said that the request for special administration by state investment unit Invitalia, which holds the remainder, ends its role in the plant. The plant in the southern city of Taranto has long been struggling to return to sustainable production levels as it combats rising energy costs and weaker industrial demand.

The plan under discussion reflects the Rome government’s approach to corporate affairs. Italy wants a say in the future of companies it deems strategic. But given its inability to finance their rescue with fresh funds due to the state’s debt mountain, it is seeking to team up with domestic or foreign partners, while retaining some form of control.

That approach has been reflected in the sale of Telecom Italia SpA’s network to US fund KKR, and in Deutsche Lufthansa AG’s deal to buy a 41% stake in ITA Airways.

Spokespeople for the Rome government, Arvedi and Metinvest declined to comment. A representative for Vulcan Green Steel could not be reached outside normal office hours.

‘Multiple Proposals’

“In recent days there have already been multiple proposals from important foreign multinationals,” Industry Minister Adolfo Urso said at a conference in Tuscany on Friday. Urso saw the government creating “the conditions for private investors, through a public tender procedure, to acquire the plant. This will happen within this year.”

Meloni herself outlined her strategy in earlier remarks Thursday. “I don’t want to nationalize Ilva, I think there are possibilities for finding private investors who really have an interest in making it work,” Meloni told RAI television.

Separately Metinvest, which is owned by Ukraine’s richest businessman Rinat Akhmetov, and Italy’s Danieli & C. Officine Meccaniche SpA signed a memorandum of agreement with the Rome government last month to relaunch a steel site at Piombino in Tuscany.

Rome has argued that Acciaierie d’Italia is a vital national asset, which subjects the plant to state powers that allow the government to override private investors and place companies under special administration.

–With assistance from Flavia Rotondi.

(Updates with minister Urso’s remarks in eighth paragraph)

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