Portugal moved closer to selling airport operator ANA, attracting eight preliminary offers in a deal that could help the indebted country raise up to EUR€2 billion (USD$2.6 billion).
People familiar with the situation said German airport operator Fraport, Brazilian construction group Odebrecht, Portuguese road operator CCR, Spanish infrastructure firm Ferrovial and investment group Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP) were among the bidders.
Strong early-stage interest in ANA could help Portugal get the most for its 95 percent stake. A person familiar with one of the bidders said the deal's value "will probably start with a 2". Portugal didn't name the bidders.
The difficulty of raising debt to make an acquisition in Portugal - because of its economic woes and background devaluation risk if it is ultimately forced out of the eurozone - means bidders need to put up about EUR€1 billion of their own equity. As a result, many are teaming up to make joint bids.
Portuguese motorway company Brisa pulled out of the auction after having considered a joint bid with Odebrecht and CCR. Singapore airport operator Changi could replace Brisa in the consortium, one of the people said.
France's Vinci, which recently lost out on a bid for Turkish airport operator TAV to Aeroport de Paris (ADP), could also be a contender, several bankers said.
Mota-Engil, a Portuguese industrial conglomerate, was also reported in local press as a possible contender.
Running ANA would give investors access to a network of airports, including those serving the largest cities of Lisbon and Porto, as well as in the southern regions Algarve and Alentejo and in the Azores archipelago.
The operator posted record profit last year of EUR€76.5 million and revenue of EUR€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 prospects to increase profits by running ANA more efficiently and developing non-aviation revenue such as from duty free sales and parking fees, the people said.
However, economic outlook and uncertainty on the level of airport fees in Portugal - and over national carrier TAP's future - are a concern. "The key question is how much macro-economic risk will affect the price," a banker familiar with the sector said.
State-owned airline TAP is also for sale but has only one bidder left, Brazilian consortium Synergy Aerospace, two sources said. A sale would only just cover TAP's EUR€1.2 billion of debt.
"TAP is barely (at) break-even and faces tough competition in Latin America. It operates 40 percent of Lisbon's traffic so it's an important source of revenues for ANA", said a banker who is talking to potential buyers.