Abertis mulls airports sale amid Bolivian nationalisation

The Spanish group has hired Citigroup and AZ Capital to study the future of its global airports business, including a sale which could net it up to €1bn. Separately, Bolivia has decided to nationalise Abertis’ three airports in that country.

Spanish infrastructure group Abertis has hired Citigroup and AZ Capital to look at a possible sale of its airports business, which has international operations and posted healthy growth in 2012.

A sale is just one of the potential options being considered by Abertis, but a disposal could net the company up to €1 billion, according to analyst estimations.

In its annual results for 2012, published today, Abertis said that revenues from its airports division increased by 9 percent in 2012 to €319 million, with earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) of €93 million. The Spanish group explained the improved results were partly due to a 1 percent growth in passenger numbers.

There is however, a small piece of bad news, as Bolivia concomitantly announced that it was nationalising the three airports Abertis operates in the country. The airports – located in Santa Cruz, La Paz and Cochabamba – have been fully written off by Abertis, but the company has issued a statement saying it hopes “to reach agreement on appropriate compensation” for the Bolivian government’s actions.

Abertis said it has made significant investments in the Bolivian airports ever since it acquired them in 1997, including spending $12.6 million in capex and paying a total of $48 million in fees and tax to the Bolivian government from 2005 to 2012. The Spanish company said it was already at odds with the authorities over what it sees as several breaches of the government’s concessions obligations and was seeking compensation of $90 million. To date, no compensation has been paid out.

Bolivian President Evo Morales, for his part, deemed the airport privatisations “robbery” and “looting” and accused Abertis of extracting “exorbitant” profits from the airports, dismissing its investments over the years as “ridiculous”.

Abertis netted a record €4 billion in revenues last year with about 55 percent of that revenue generated by its international business. Following the recent acquisition of several toll road assets in Brazil and Chile, the company expects over 60 percent of its revenues and EBITDA to come from outside Spain when 2013 ends.

The firm’s airports unit owns stakes in 29 airports across the world.