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Aena

Spanish government wants Aena in the market for 3bn but keeping the upper hand

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MADRID | By Quesada Vargas | Madrid is considering the listing of AENA airports authority, the world’s largest, managing 46 airports in Spain, including Madrid’s Barajas and Barcelona’s El Prat. The key element is that the Spanish government is to shield 50pc of the agent’s equity and its effective control. Will investors get cold feet?

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The Spanish Government wants to put airport manager Aena in the market, but not at any price. Analysts believe that the exchange value of the group could exceed 3 billion euros, once discounted some 12 billion euros of debt that the company accumulates. However, the Ministry of public works wants the State to keep the majority of the shares and that can limit its value.

Without the possibility that a third party can launch a takeover bid for Aena in the future, many large institutional investors are not willing to pay a juicy premium. Ahorro Corporación analysts believe that if Aena meets its roadmap and its ebitda or operating profit reaches 1.5 billion euros at the end of 2013, the total value of the group could exceed 15 billion, 3 of which being equity and the rest being the company’s leverage.

Ratios are similar to those of Aena’s competitors such as German airport manager Fraport, listed with some ten times ebitda. In addition, the latest large operations in the sector, as sales of the airports in Edinburgh or the privatization of Portuguese Manager ANA, made in all cases at much higher prices, show that there is interest of big investors in this type of assets.

In April last year, BAA – owned by Ferrovial – sold Edinburgh for 988 million euros to GIP, a manager of Credit Suisse and General Electric. Multiple operation was 16.7 times ebitda planned for 2012, as generous as the 16 times that Manchester Airports paid in January this year for Stanted airport – 1,800 million euros – or the privatization of ANA, bought by the French group Vinci.

Change of hands

Of course in all cases the operations meant a change of the controlling shareholder, something that probably won’t happen in Aena, which limits the potential investors’ appetite. “It will be impossible for the State to get these figures if they aren’t willing to give up control,” investment banks sources say.

Therefore, the swords are all high. The operation is of vital importance to the Spanish government, because it will test the appetite of foreign investors for Spanish assets at a time in which the privatization of Renfe and the administrator of railway infrastructures (Adif) are also in the air.

Last March, the Minister of transport Ana Pastor assured that the liberalization of passenger transport business prepared by the Government did not include the privatization of any of the two companies, and added that the same mistakes that the United Kingdom made, that among other things caused a sharp increase in prices, would not be repeated.

However, in May last year and in the middle of the reformist wave, the Government received a report by transport engineering which recommended the total privatization of Renfe and the sale of the passenger business – including regional railway services- through a public offering during 2013. Those operations are today in the drawer but could be reactivated if Aena goes in the market and meets the Spanish government high expectations.

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