Vitol buys key stake in refiner Saras

ROME: The family of Italian billionaire Massimo Moratti has agreed to sell a controlling stake in refiner Saras SpA to the commodities trading giant Vitol Group, in a deal which valued the company at about €1.7bil (US$1.9bil).

Privately-owned Vitol has been banking huge profits over the past few years as first the Covid-19 pandemic and then Russia’s invasion of Ukraine unleashed massive volatility across oil, gas and power markets.

With the effect of those shocks now on the wane, Vitol and other cash-rich traders have been on a buying spree, looking to lock in bigger margins longer term.

The Moratti family reached a deal to sell about 35% of Saras at €1.75 per share, according to a statement from the family.

Angelo Moratti, one of Massimo Moratti’s nephews, may also sell his remaining 5% which is linked to a collar derivate contract.

Vitol, known as the world’s largest independent oil trader, will then launch a takeover bid for the remaining Saras shares.

Bloomberg News first reported Vitol’s talks with Moratti Feb 7.

Vitol has been acquiring stakes in refineries and retail fuel networks, as well as investing in US upstream oil and renewables.

The Saras deal will give Vitol a stake in a refinery that feeds into the lucrative Mediterranean market and beyond. When completed Vitol will have investments in over 800,000 barrels per day of refining capacity.

“Saras’ business is highly complementary to Vitol’s core operations,” Vitol chief executive officer Russel Hardy said, noting that the refinery was “a key European energy asset.”

The Moratti family has a 40% holding in Saras, giving them control of the firm.

Massimo Moratti, the chairman and chief executive and a former owner of Inter Milan football club, holds 20%. His nephews Gabriele Moratti and Angelo Moratti each own 10% via holding companies.

“Sixty-two years after my father founded it, together with my nephews, I believe that the best assurance for the future success of the Sarroch refinery is the aggregation with a leading player in the global energy sector, such as Vitol,” Massimo Moratti said in the statement.

Founded in the 1960s by the family, Saras runs the 300,000 barrels-a-day Sarroch refinery on the island of Sardinia. Commodities trader Trafigura Group has about 9.6% of the refiner after selling about 4% last month.

The refinery is considered relatively advanced, meaning it is able to tweak the crudes it processes and the fuels it makes.

It is the largest single-site plant in southern Europe although Italy’s ISAB facility, which is split into northern and southern sections, is bigger when combined.

Completion of the transaction is subject to regulatory approvals including the Italian government’s golden power procedure, the Moratti statement said.

“This transaction presents an opportunity for Vitol to invest in a high-quality asset, well placed to serve both Italy’s and Europe’s current and future energy needs,” the company said in the statement. — Bloomberg

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