LISBON, Dec 20 (Reuters) - Portugal's largest shipping company, Grupo ETE, is preparing to open up its capital to outside investors and is studying the possibility of an initial public offering as it seeks to speed up expansion in Latin America, CEO Luis Nagy told Reuters.
Family-owned ETE, which was set up 80 years ago, focuses on river transport and is the sector leader in the Iberian Peninsula. It already operates in Colombia and Uruguay.
"We could take a financial partner who would want to invest, and there are funds that are very interested in all things infrastructure ... another option could be a business partner seeking to diversify its activities to new areas, be it Portugal or Latina America. We are open to both hypotheses," Nagy said.
He said an initial public offering could also go ahead, in Portugal or elsewhere.
"It's unlikely to happen in 2017, but it could happen. We are ready for this. It could be in Portugal if the market becomes more active," he said, adding that the recent creation of subholdings for ports or maritime shipping within the firm was designed to help attract investors.
"There are foreign firms that might be interested in the whole group and there may be those interested only in port operations or sea shipping," he said.
The additional capital is chiefly needed to reach the company's goal of doubling or tripling the volume of its overseas business, which now accounts for 10 percent of EBITDA.
There are new business opportunities in Uruguay, Paraguay and especially Colombia that could involve acquisitions of local firms, Nagy said.
In Portugal, ETE transports cement for Cimpor and clinker and coal for EDP-Energias de Portugal. In Uruguay it transports timber to supply the world's largest pulp plant operated by Stora Enso, while in Colombia it ships road construction materials by river.
ETE, which also has a naval engineering unit, had a net profit of 11 million euros last year on a turnover of 195 million euros and EBITDA of 34 million. It has a net debt of just over 100 million euros. (Writing by Andrei Khalip, editing by David Evans)