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Consortium cuts debt load in Abertis buy-source

Source: Reuters - Thu 8th Jul 2010

The consortium preparing to buy infrastructure operator Abertis will take on a third less debt after some banks left its lending syndicate, a source close to the situation said, reflecting tough credit conditions in Spain.

Private equity firm CVC Capital Partners and existing shareholders ACS and La Caixa's investment arm Criteria plan to put debt and equity into an investment vehicle and launch a takeover of Abertis, which has a market capitalisation of 10.75 billion euros ($13.5 billion).

Six out of an original 21 banks in a lending syndicate that had been planning to provide 8 billion euros for the acquisition have left the deal, scaling back the debt to close to 5 billion euros, the source said on condition of anonymity.

Spanish infrastructure deals, like ACS's sale of its Spanish ports and the divestment of Endesa's Spanish gas grid, have run up against a reluctance among some banks to provide credit approval during Spain's financial downturn.

On Thursday, the Financial Times reported the consortium's bid would still value the equity of Abertis at 12 billion euros, implying an offer for the toll road, airports and telecoms group of at least 16 euros per share.

Spokespeople for ACS, Criteria and Abertis declined to comment, while a CVC spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment.

Abertis shares rose on Thursday as investors were encouraged by the suggestion the consortium was prepared to put up more equity for their bid in light of the reduced debt. They were up 3.1 percent at 0942 GMT to 14.51 euros, after hitting a six-month high. ACS shares were down 0.9 percent, in line with Madrid's blue-chip index.

A source familiar with the matter told Reuters on Tuesday that Criteria, which owns 28.5 percent of Aberits, was targeting a stake of over 28 percent after the buyout, while CVC's stake would be slightly less and ACS's stake would be about 20 percent. ACS's stake in Abertis is currently 25.8 percent.


The consortium's move to create and leverage on a new holding company - at a challenging time for complex financial deals in debt-hit Spain - would allow the partners to extract much-needed cash while keeping control of the operating company.

Were ACS to sell Abertis shares to the acquisition vehicle while taking a stake in the vehicle itself, it could raise the 2 billion euros it needs to realise its ambition of raising its 12 percent stake in Spanish utility Iberdrola to over 20 percent.

For La Caixa, Spain's third largest bank, the cash would help it improve its capital ratios in the face of new capital and liquidity requirements under Basel III.

At the same time as withdrawing cash, however, the consortium will need to ensure Abertis' credit rating is not damaged, said UniCredit analyst Rocco Schilling.

"CVC, Abertis and Criteria should look to finance the deal in a more conservative way, say 40 percent equity and 60 percent debt, in order to keep the investment grade rating that Abertis wants to keep after the deal is done" he said.

Industry experts say the consortium will likely sell Abertis' non-core assets following the acquisition, with a 14.6 percent stake in Portugal's Brisa, a 6.7 percent stake in Italy's Atlantia and a 32 percent stake in France's Eutelsat the most likely candidates.

These stakes could fetch 3 billion euros, according to market analysts, allowing the consortium to lower the company's gearing. Abertis has net debt of some 14.5 billion euros.

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