French group Vinci won a tender for Portugal's airports operator ANA on Thursday with a EUR€3.08 billion (USD$4.1 billion) bid, enabling debt-laden Lisbon to beat its EU/IMF asset sale goal.
"This shows our capacity to attract foreign investment and raise significant sums above market expectations despite difficult circumstances," Treasury Secretary Maria Luis Albuquerque told a briefing. "Luckily, the highest bidder also offered us the best strategic project."
Vinci, the largest construction company in Europe by revenue, will take a 95 percent stake in ANA outbidding three international consortia. They were led by Germany's Fraport, Switzerland's Flughafen Zurich and Argentina's Corporacion America, and involved funds and companies from Australia, Brazil, Britain, Mexico and Portugal.
Despite Portugal's steep recession and debt crisis, ANA has been making profits out of its network of airports in Portugal, including those serving the largest cities of Lisbon and Porto, as well as the Algarve and Alentejo regions and the Madeira and Azores archipelagos.
Vinci operates 9 regional airports in France and is the concession company for Cambodia's three international airports.
Vinci said in a statement that with the acquisition, its airports division will have revenues of more than EUR€600 million serving some 40 million passengers, up sharply from last year's EUR€150 million and 8.5 million passengers.
In Portugal, Vinci is already one of two main shareholders in Lusoponte that operates Lisbon's two bridges over the Tagus, including the Vasco da Gama - the longest bridge in Europe.
Lisbon needs to get the most it can from state-owned asset sales after it agreed to raise EUR€5.5 billion by the end of 2013 as part of a EUR€78 billion bailout agreement with EU/IMF lenders.
The government 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 had earlier raised about EUR€3.4 billion by selling major stakes in power firms EDP and REN mainly to Chinese investors, and with the ANA sale it has beaten its target by nearly EUR€1 billion. That is despite having shelved the sale of flag carrier TAP earlier this month after the sole bidder failed to present the necessary financial guarantees.
"It's a world record for such transactions involving airports," Albuquerque said of the ANA deal.
Vinci is eager to build its fledgling airport concessions business, especially after losing a bidding contest for Turkish airports operator TAV earlier this year and an upsetting decision by Germany's Hochtief to suspend a planned sale of its airports.
More than three fifths of ANA's revenue comes from domestic and European flights and investors see a potential for growth in long-haul flights to South America and Africa. Profits could also be boosted by operating ANA more efficiently and developing non-aviation revenue such as from duty free sales and parking.