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By Patricia Rua
LISBON, Dec 6 (Reuters) - Portugal’s largest builder Mota-Engil sees its operations in Latin America taking over from Africa as its main growth engine as it expands away from its stricken home market.
“We are sure that growth abroad will continue and Latin American operations will be the ones that grow the most,” Chief Financial Officer Goncalo Moura Martins told Reuters.
Portugal’s construction sector is one of the most hard-hit parts of the economy, which is suffering its worst recession since the 1970s, with many companies going out of business and others struggling to obtain loans.
Mota is already present in Peru and Mexico, where revenue soared 37 percent in the first nine months of the year to make up 13 percent of total sales, and plans to grow in other markets including Brazil.
The company’s more traditional growth engine in Africa, mainly Angola, managed revenue growth of just 8 percent, but still accounts for a much larger 31 percent share of overall revenue.
“It’s part of the group’s strategy to seek projects in the same (Latin American) region so we are studying, jointly with local teams, the Brazilian and Colombian markets,” Moura Martins said on Thursday.
Mota has recently acquired a majority stake in Empresa Construtora Brasil for 19 million euros ($24.8 million), making its ambitions in South America’s largest economy.
The company’s strategic plan envisages 45 percent sales growth through 2015, when foreign operations will account for 70 percent of revenue, up from 53 percent. Latin America should make up 27 percent of sales by then.
The CFO said Mota’s financing needs for this year and next were covered and it was negotiating financing for 2014.
Moura Martins said the company is focused on reducing its debt burden via cash-flow generation and said there were no plans to sell stakes in companies such as metal structures maker Martifer and motorway concession holder Ascendi.
Its net debt dropped to 862 million euros in September from 883 million at the end of 2011.
Mota has a 37.5 percent stake in Martifer and 60 percent of Ascendi.
Mota shares have risen 30 percent so far this year, helped by its international growth, far outperforming Lisbon’s PSI20 stock index, down 2 percent. They rose 2.2 percent to close at 1.38 euros on Thursday. ($1 = 0.7652 euros) (Writing by Andrei Khalip; Editing by David Holmes)