Azimut, Chinese group waiting in the wings for Benetti Yachts

Genoa - Company for sale for €300 million. Vitelli: “Unfounded rumours”.

di Matteo Dell’Antico

Genoa - On one side, a major Chinese group, and on the other, a historic brand of yachts that is Made in Italy, and one of the most important yacht builders in the world. At the centre, negotiations that several industry players say have been going on for several weeks. The price of acquisition - for a majority share in the shipyard - has been set at €300 million. The company Azimut/Benetti, which has been controlled by the Vitelli family for years, could decide to sell the Benetti brand, a brand that specializes in the construction of yachts over 35m in length, to Asian investors. A financial source close to the matter has confirmed to Il Secolo XIX/The MediTelegraph, that “a dossier is already with Mediobanca, which has been entrusted with the role of advisor. There is strong interest from an important Beijing-based group and yachting - together with football - is one of the sectors that is most attractive to Chinese investors.” But that’s not all: there is also another company waiting in the wings, also from Asia, which has also shown interest in the Benetti sale, although it is keeping quiet for the moment. It would cause shockwaves, or near enough, should the Vitelli family decide to sell their majority stake in the historic Italian brand - and concentrate mostly on the smaller Azimut-brand vessels – because the operation would immediately be one of the biggest in the world for the construction of sporting units.

Today Benetti has its headquarters in Tuscany, where the production of models is concentrated at the Viareggio and Livorno plants, although part of the business also takes place at the Fano site, in The Marches. Business wise, the sale of a majority stake in Benetti would guarantee the entry of fresh capital into the Vitelli coffers, about a year ago, Tamburi Investment Partners (TIP), a publicly traded merchant bank (STAR), which owns stakes in various Made in Italy companies, from Moncler to Eataly, acquired 6.2% of Azimut/Benetti from Mittel, which was selling its stake, and then subscribed to a capital increase of €30 million, increasing its stake to 12% of the shares. In 1985, the Vitelli family acquired the Fratelli Benetti shipyard in Viareggio, creating what is now known throughout the world as the Azimut/Benetti Group. In 2015, the value of production was €680 million, a 16% increase in a three year period.

The company’s market share at the global level, on the other hand, has grown from 8% in 2008 to 10% currently. But super yachts remain a very subtle sector, and given the continuing growth of the market for extra-luxury goods, the current climate could be favourable for those who decide to sell, especially given the strong continuing interest in brands that represent the excellence of the Made in Italy brand to the world, especially those that achieved international renown some years ago. Is everything already decided? It seems not, because Azimut/Benetti’s boss, Paolo Vitelli, claims that the story of the possible sale of Benetti to a Beijing-based Group is “an unfounded rumour,” so much so that the businessman, who was contacted by Il Secolo XIX/The MediTelegraph, explained that he was last in touch with Mediobanco “about two years ago.” “I have not been contacted by any Chinese company,” Vitelli went on to explain, “and at this time the shipyard is growing and we are experiencing a good period of production. We have no intention of selling.”