4 Min Read
* Hochtief cancels 10 pct of treasury shares
* Share cancellation to increase ACS stake to 55 pct
* Hochtief sees 2014 adj net profit of 225-250 mln euros
* Raises dividend to 1.50 euros/share vs 1.00 euro last year (Adds analysts' and spokesman comments)
By Marilyn Gerlach and Matthias Inverardi
ESSEN, Germany, Feb 27 (Reuters) - Spain' ACS is set to gain more control at Hochtief after the German builder announced plans to cancel some shares, and analysts expect ACS to increase its stake again in the future as it seeks to become a global player.
Hochtief raised its dividend and reported better-than-expected annual results on Thursday, thanks to a restructuring that saw debts cut and cash flow increase. It also forecast a bigger-than-expected rise in profits for 2014.
ACS took control of Germany's biggest builder in 2011, and directly owns around 49 percent of its shares. Hochtief has since launched a wide-ranging transformation that includes cost cuts and the sale of airports and other non-core assets, which brought proceeds of 1.8 billion euros ($2.5 billion) last year.
Hochtief said it would cancel about 10 percent of treasury shares and would pay shareholders a 50 percent increase in dividends to 1.50 euros per share, exceeding analyst estimates for 1.32 euros.
A spokesman for Hochtief, which launched a 260-million-euro share buyback last year, said the cancellation of shares would result in ACS increasing its stake to around 55 percent.
Analysts also said they expected Hochtief to further boost its stake in Australia's biggest builder Leighton after raising it to 58.77 percent early this year. Leighton contributed about 90 percent of group pretax profit in 2012.
"ACS has increased its stake in Hochtief. Well done for ACS. They have not used their own money to do this," Bankhaus-Lampe analyst Marc Gabriel told Reuters.
"I would expect Hochtief would further use the cash (from divesting the non-core assets) to buy back its own shares and (shares) in Leighton. ACS is trying to become a global player in construction," he said.
Another analyst, who declined to be identified, said he believed ACS's next move would be to increase its shares in Hochtief to 75 percent. "That's the next logical step. I think the end game is to swallow Hochtief. They already have the majority at the AGM," the analyst said.
Leighton is in Hochtief's Asia-Pacific division, which saw pretax profit rise by over a fifth to 499.8 million euros despite a weaker Australian dollar that reduced the value of new orders, work done and sales last year compared with 2012.
Hochtief Europe, where the bulk of restructuring is taking place, posted a 1.18 percent increase in pretax profit to 63 million euros. Hochtief said it would cut about 800-1,000 jobs at Hochtief Solutions in Germany.
Chief Executive Marcelino Fernandes Verdes said on Thursday Hochtief was in talks with investors regarding the future of Hochtief Solutions service units Format and HTP, as well as its property management business.
Hochtief forecast all divisions would improve profit margins in 2014, although the value of new orders and work done would fall due partly to exchange rate effects.
It saw its underlying net profit rising to between 225 million and 250 million euros ($307.5-341.7 million) this year. The average forecast of analysts in a Reuters poll was 217 million euros.
It achieved its 2013 targets, with underlying net profit more than doubling to 207.5 million, beating the forecast of 181 million.
Hochtief cut net debt by 750 million euros to 194.4 million as of end-December 2013 from a year earlier.
Shares in Hochtief rose midmorning but at 1143 GMT, they were down 0.1 percent, still outperforming a 1.5 percent decline in Frankfurt's blue-chip index.
Hochtief shares have risen 18 percent in the past six months, compared to German rival Bilfinger's 22 percent and the 19 percent of STOXX Europe 600 construction and materials sector index.
$1 = 0.7317 euros Editing by Victoria Bryan and Pravin Char