Brisa owners to sell majority stake in Portugal's highway operator

LISBON (Reuters) - The two main owners of Portugal’s Brisa have put stakes in the motorway operator up for sale in a move which sources have said could value the company at up to 5 billion euros and attract bids from companies in Europe and Australia.

Portugal’s Jose de Mello conglomerate and London-based infrastructure fund Arcus are each offering the equivalent of 40% of voting rights in Portugal’s main motorway operator, a Jose de Mello spokesman said on Monday.

In June, sources with knowledge of the matter told Reuters that France’s Ardian and Australia’s Macquarie and IFM were among infrastructure investors preparing offers for Brisa, which could value the company at 4 billion to 5 billion euros ($4.43 billion-$5.54 billion) including debt, while Spanish firm GlobalVia would only bid for full control.

None of the companies named as potential bidders have commented.

Funds focused on infrastructure investments are eager to deploy capital in businesses with recurrent cash flows against a background of ultra-low interest rates and narrowing yields.

“Jose de Mello Group confirms that it has decided to sell part of its stake in Brisa, jointly with its current partner, the fund Arcus ... two blocks, of around 40% of voting rights each, will be on sale,” the spokesman said.

Jose de Mello holds, via direct and indirect stakes, 57.3% of Brisa voting rights, while Arcus has 40%.

A source close to the process said that at the beginning of last week banks representing the sellers started contacting potential investors such as pension and infrastrcuture funds, insurance firms and infrastructure operators, with the parties expecting the sale to close during the first half of 2020.

Arcus has been actively looking to cash out and is working with Morgan Stanley and BCP to sell its stake. Jose de Mello Group is being helped by Rothschild and Caixa Banco de Investimento, the company said.

“After the sale, Jose de Mello Group wants to remain a shareholder and have a new partnership with one or more new shareholders, look at the existing and new businesses,” said the source.

Arcus was not immediately available to comment.

Brisa runs a network of 17 motorways and six national highways covering 1,628 km. Its main BCR concession of 12 motorways ends in 2035. Brisa’s net profit last year rose 24% to 167 million euros on a 4% increase in average daily traffic, and it had a net debt of 1.7 billion euros.

Writing by Andrei Khalip; editing by Kirsten Donovan