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Abertis moves closer to airports sale -sources
March 20, 2013 / 7:02 PM / in 5 years

Abertis moves closer to airports sale -sources

* Abertis still studying options on potential sale - CEO

* Sale in one lot may be difficult - source

* Airports arm valued at about 900 million euros

* Macquarie,JPMorgan, Malaysian Airports possible buyers-source

By Sophie Sassard and Jose Elias Rodriguez

LONDON/BARCELONA, March 20 (Reuters) - Spanish infrastructure firm Abertis is expecting non-binding offers for its airports business before the end of March, in a deal worth about 900 million euros ($1.17 billion), two sources familiar with the process said on Wednesday.

Abertis’s advisers at Citi and AZ Capital sent out marketing documents to potential bidders for its 29 airports across the world a few weeks ago.

Earlier this year, Barcelona-based Abertis raised the prospect of the airports sale, valued by analysts at about 900 million euros ($1.2 billion), to slim down the company and focus on toll roads and telecommunications.

The company would likely prefer to sell the airports division in one go to avoid being left with small, isolated assets scattered across the world.

One of the sources, who asked not to be named because the talks are private, said that interest in the division as a whole was expected to be slim.

A second source familiar with the process said: “There is interest for the Latin American bit and there is interest for the European bit, the problem is there is no interest for the two things together.”

Abertis has stakes in 29 airports in Latin America and Europe, including Colombia’s Bogota, Sweden’s Stockholm, Belfast in Northern Ireland, Cardiff in Wales and London’s Luton, which is considered the “jewel” in the portfolio. Luton has however limits on its concession and would require investment.

“It is a very complicated situation, you need someone with real operational skills here,” said the first source, who is currently sounding out prospective bidders. “At this stage, it’s very difficult to predict who is going to be interested.”

Abertis chief executive Francisco Reynes, speaking before an annual shareholders’ meeting on Wednesday, said the company still had not taken a final decision to sell the division, which contributed 8 percent of 4 billion euros of revenues in 2012.

Since Reynes took over as CEO in 2010, the company has spun off its parking lots division and sold stakes in one satellite business to build up its holding in another one and buy toll road assets in Brazil.

A third source with direct knowledge of the situation said the company would not rule out dividing the airports into various lots in order to facilitate their sale.

Bidders who lost out on recent Edinburgh and Stansted airport deals, such as JP Morgan Asset Management, Australian bank Macquarie’s infrastructure arm or Malaysian Airports Holding might show interest, two of the sources said.

But Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP) and Manchester Airport Group, which respectively own Britain’ Gatwick and Stansted airports and have a positive operational track record, would face competition issues if they wanted to acquire Luton.

France’s Vinci late last year invested in Portuguese airport operator ANA and is expected to focus on that for a while before getting involved in any more big deals, the source said.

Pension funds, normally active in the infrastructure space, would also struggle to justify investing in Luton because the airport’s 30-year concession expires in 2028 and so would not match their longer-term liabilities.

Malaysian Airports and JP Morgan Asset Management were not immediately available for comment. Macquarie and GIP declined to comment.

Abertis appointed Citi and AZ Capital to study alternatives for its non-core assets earlier this year.

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