01 July 2021
The news was expected but not for this reason destined to make less noise. The Americans of Blackstone (global asset management giant) took the offensive against Urbano Cairo and the RCS asking for a total compensation of 600 million dollars (505 million euros) equally divided: 300 million personally to the publisher and 300 million to the Corriere della Sera company. The appeal was filed with the New York Court along with a request to merge the two cases. Blackstone’s initiative was expected. In fact, in mid-May, there was an arbitration award that rejected Cairo’s claim for damages. The American counter-offensive was a foregone conclusion.
There was only to wait. Yesterday the time came and for Cairo there are moments that could be very dark. The story is that of the building in via Solferino, headquarters of Corriere della Sera from the day of its birth, sold in 2013 by the board of directors led by Pietro Scott Jovane to Blackstone for 120 million. A price that Cairo has always considered inadequate. In 2013, however, he was only a shareholder and had no place in the governance of the group. With the 2016 tender offer, he took control and waited for the right moment to follow up on his doubts. The spring started three years ago when Blackstone announced the sale of the prestigious property to the Germans of Allianz for 250 million. More than double what they had paid for it. A substantial gain for an investment of five years earlier. On the advice of Sergio Erede, an ancient and well-known Milanese business lawyer, the judicial offensive in Cairo has started. Heavy accusation: usury. The Americans, that is, would have taken advantage of the conditions of extreme financial weakness of the publishing company of the Corriere della Sera, to obtain an excessively contained evaluation. Their arbitrators, however, denied the allegations.
The contract entered into by Blackstone was found to be perfectly regular. The price, perhaps, a little low. But these are things that happen when there is a seller chased by creditors. At this point, the response of the Americans with the request for maxi-compensation is inevitable. Partly because the judicial initiative put Allianz on the run. Partly because the accusation of usury is just unpleasant. Blackstone’s real estate worldwide is valued at $ 196 billion. Damage of a few tens of millions in Milan is widely bearable. The offense to morality in business far less. For Urbano Cairo a very big problem that poses the main question: why did he do it? Why did he go into a clash with a global financial giant? Questions also posed by the representatives of Unipol and Banca Intesa on the RCS board of directors. And so, when Cairo, given the bad turn, asked for personal indemnity, they turned to the other side. They did not show up at the meeting to make clear the dissent on the whole operation.
Starting with the fact that the chairman and major shareholder asked the company to bear the entire compensation in the event of losing. HYPOTHESIS What happens now? Difficult dice king. If the Court of New York, as possible, were to award the victory to Blackstone, the situation would become very complicated: RCS is worth 370 million on the stock market. Cairo Communication, the president’s holding company, 227 million. They are gross calculations but they give the idea. The hurricane departing from New York could overwhelm the group. Including the personal assets of Urbano Cairo estimated at approximately 150 million. How can you avoid it? A hypothesis that runs in Milan, but with little credit, is that of the repurchase. Il Corriere buys home at a price deemed appropriate by Black stone. Possible but not very likely even if the group’s debt is now reduced to 48 million. Making it go up exponentially for a real estate operation would be difficult to explain to the stock market.
The alternative is the turnaround in the shareholding structure. The losers of the 2016 OPA, starting with Mediobanca and Andrea Bonomi’s Investindustrial, perhaps with the support of Leonardo Del Vecchio, could return to the field. The forced exit of Cairo could push the Americans, in the event of a favorable ruling, to accept a settlement. Solution deemed impossible with current governance. Obviously it’s just star there. Things could be different with the Cairo victory. The fact remains that the history of Corriere della Sera is punctuated by changes in ownership that are intertwined with political changes. Starting with Luigi Albertini and fascism passing through Angelo Rizzoli, the P2 and the failure of the Ambrosiano. The protection of Giovanni Bazoli and the arrival of Cairo in 2016 on the eve of the grillina advance. The M5s crisis and the new chapter of Italy could coincide with a change of ownership in via Solferino. A story that has been repeating itself for over a century.