UPDATE 1-Italy’s Webuild to merge with Astaldi unit in next few months -CFO

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MILAN, Dec 3 (Reuters) – Webuild is aiming to complete its merger with listed unit Astaldi by the end of the first half of next year, the top finance executive of Italy’s biggest construction group said on Thursday.

Webuild took control of its troubled rival Astaldi last month, completing the first phase of a state-backed plan dubbed “Project Italy” to revive the country’s ailing construction industry.

However, with COVID creating uncertainty across the sector, Massimo Ferrari, Webuild’s general manager corporate and finance, said the Astaldi deal was likely to be the last piece of merger activity for the moment.

“About M&A … we have completed most of the way, if not all of it, at the moment. And the COVID pandemic completely changes the market scenario,” he told Reuters in a phone interview.

The group aims to focus on low-risk markets including North America, central and northern Europe, Australia and Italy, where the government is expected to spend a chunk of the roughly 200 billion euros it expects from the coronavirus EU Recovery Fund on upgrading the country’s dilapidated highway network.

“We aim to sign strategic framework agreements with motorway operators for the maintenance of highways,” Ferrari said, adding that this could add at least one billion euros to group revenues.

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Webuild expects pro-forma revenues of 5.7-6 billion euros this year, taking into account Astaldi revenues for the 12 months. Currently Webuild has a 64% stake in Astaldi.

The construction group said on Thursday it priced a 550 million euro bond with a 5-year maturity. (Reporting by Elisa Anzolin, editing by James Mackenzie, Kirsten Donovan)

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