| MADRID, June 13
MADRID, June 13 Spain's AENA airports authority,
the world's largest, aims to raise around 6 billion euros in a
partial privatisation before the end of the year, sources
familiar with the situation said on Thursday.
AENA is entirely owned by the Spanish state and runs 46
airports in Spain alone, including Madrid, a European hub for
flights from Latin America. Spain, whose sunsoaked beaches are
among Europe's most popular, welcomed nearly 58 million visitors
The sale would raise much-needed revenue that could either
help ease the government's own financing problems or be used to
pay off some of the company's own debt pile of 12 billion euros,
most of which was taken on for badly-needed extensions of
Madrid's Barajas and Barcelona's El Prat airport.
The operator handles 200 million passengers a year, most of
those in Spain, and the sources said advisers have estimated its
worth at between 12 billion and 15 billion euros or 8 to 10
times this year's core earnings (EBITDA).
That compares with an enterprise value of 9 times EBITDA for
Fraport, Frankfurt's airports operator, which also
runs airports in Peru and Turkey.
It is not yet clear whether the sale will be an initial
public offering or another format, and the exact date is still
unknown as well.
But the sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, told
Reuters that firm plans were now in place for a sale that would
take place at latest early next year.
The privatisation process should not be difficult despite
the economic climate in Spain, according to one Spanish
investment banker not involved in the sale, but also declining
to be named.
"This is a very attractive asset and I don't think there
will be any problem selling it, it's world class in terms of
both Spain's position as a tourist destination as well as its
links to Latin America," the banker said.
"The only thing they have to be careful about is not to
break it up into too many pieces, or there will be a loss of
interest," he added.
Public Works Ministry officials have said publicly that the
privatisation should take place before the end of the year.
Selling off AENA has been an on-off project for years, last
shelved in 2011 because of poor market conditions.
"We have not yet finalised the project ... but the objective
is to do it this year," Infrastructure Secretary Rafael Catala
said earlier this week.
The sources said one of the formats would be a privatisation
via a sale of stakes to core shareholders, viewed as long term
partners, and institutional investors, which could eventually
place up to 60 percent of the company in private hands.
That could take place by the end of the year or the spring
of 2014, depending on the market. The government has named
Lazard and N+1 as advisers in the process.
"There is an appetite for these kind of assets, which have
some resilience to the economic climate. But it's very difficult
to make an argument for a premium valuation," said a
London-based investment banker not involved in the sale.
Government officials however for the moment have only talked
of the sale of a minority stake, although a decision to sell
more would boost the value of the offering by giving a greater
say in how the operator is run.
AENA, which also has stakes in 23 airports beyond Spain, is
also negotiating the purchase of London's Luton airport from
fellow Spanish firm Abertis.
The airports operator has its eye on expansion to offset
Spain's current economic doldrums, and wants to capitalise on
its cultural links with Latin America. Spain was the world's
fourth most-visited country in 2011 according to the United
Nations Tourism Organization.
The operator recently raised airport tariffs, which it
argues brought rates into line with European peers. It is also
selling new concessions and licences to run services including
baggage handling, parking and private aviation.