Ferrovial unloads part of BAA

BAA's owner has sold 5.88% of its share in the airports operator, leaving it with just under 50%. Seems like odd behaviour...

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 15 Oct 2012
Strange times at BAA, where majority stakeholder Ferrovial has decided to sell off 5.88% of its stake in the airports operator for £280m. That takes its share of the company down to just 49.99% - which means it’s no longer officially in control. Unusual behaviour, surely, from the company that is keen to maintain the fact that it is a ‘long-term investor’ in the UK’s largest airport operator?

Well: not necessarily. Once the deal – with two investment vehicles managed by infrastructure fund Alinda Capital Partners – is completed, the debts on Ferrovial’s balance sheets will drop from €19.75bn (£17bn) to just €5.19bn. A significant fall, by all accounts. It does rather suggest that Ferrovial has decided it’s time to start cutting its losses. Having (with much alacrity) forked out £10.3bn for BAA back in 2006, this deal values it at just £4.76bn. Ouch.  

So does this mean Spanish-owned Ferrovial is losing enthusiasm for BAA? Arguably, it’s been something of a headache since Ferrovial bought it. First, there was the Competition Commission ruling that forced it to sell off Gatwick (which it promptly did), Stansted (which it’s still dawdling over) and one of its Scottish airports (which, just last week, the CC gave it a hefty nudge over).

More recently, there was the chaos caused by the ash cloud and heavy snow. Not only did both wipe a significant chunk off BAA’s bottom line, but last Christmas’ snow left management with faces redder than Santa’s trousers after BAA-owned Heathrow descended into pandemonium, while Gatwick (by that time no longer under its control) smugly dusted off its snow ploughs and carried on pretty much as normal.

Still – whether this is good news for BAA remains debatable. While Ferrovial hasn’t been the most adoring parent, boss Íñigo Meirás says it has no plans to sell any more of its stake and remains committed to ‘long-term investment in BAA’. It will remain the largest shareholder, but only time will tell if ceding its controlling stake turns out to be a good idea…

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