(Adds more details, background)
By Sophie Sassard and Sergio Goncalves
LONDON/LISBON Dec 27 Portugal is set to beat
its privatisation revenue goal by selling airport operator ANA
to French construction firm Vinci in a deal worth
about 3 billion euros ($3.97 billion), sources said.
Vinci was chosen because of the high value of its bid for
ANA compared with the other three final contenders, Fraport
of Germany, Zurich airport operator Flughafen
and Argentinian infrastructure group Corporacion America, people
with knowledge of the matter told Reuters on Thursday.
Lisbon is under pressure to get the most it can from
state-owned asset sales after it agreed to raise 5.5 billion
euros by the end of 2013 as part of a 78 billion euro bailout
agreement with the troika of EU/IMF lenders, which also included
across-the-board tax hikes and spending cuts.
"The Vinci offer is so high that it was placed at the top of
the list for the cabinet to evaluate. The preliminary evaluation
was to recommend Vinci, for its financial bid and overall
parameters. But the decision is with the cabinet," one of the
Portuguese government officials said the cabinet was still
in a meeting and had no immediate comment.
Lisbon has been betting on infrastructure deals to cut its
debt as demand for regulated assets in Europe remains strong
despite the region's debt crisis.
It has so far sold stakes in power companies EDP
and REN, mainly to Chinese investors.
Vinci has made no secret of its eagerness to build its
fledgling airport concessions business. It is trying to rebound
from the loss earlier this year of a bidding contest for Turkish
airports operator TAV as well as a decision by Germany's
Hochtief to suspend a planned sale of its airports.
ANA posted record profit last year of 76.5 million euros and
revenue of 425 million, despite the country's economic crisis,
as the number of foreign visitors rose.
More than three fifths of revenue comes from domestic and
intra-European flights and Portugal hopes the potential for
growth in long-haul flights to South America and Africa, which
could generate high fees for ANA, will appeal to investors.
Potential buyers also see the prospect of increasing profits
by running ANA more efficiently and developing non-aviation
revenue such as from duty free sales and parking fees, people
close to the transaction said.
Vinci declined to comment.
($1 = 0.7563 euros)
(Reporting by Sophie Sassard in London and Sergio Goncalves in
Lisbon; Additional reporting by James Regan in Paris; Editing by
Erica Billingham and Helen Massy-Beresford)