Spain is about to launch its largest privatisation of the past 16 years with the partial sell-off of airport operator AENA. The initial public offering (IPO) could raise about €2.5bn, making it the largest in Europe this year, according to banking sources advising on the deal.
The IPO will see 49% of the company’s shares listed on the Madrid stock exchange by the end of November. The move to divest just under half of the profitable company includes a 21% sale to a core group of anchor investors. Listings in Spain have raised more than $6 bn this year, the most since 2011, as investors return to the country’s markets on the hope of an economic recovery. Irish airline Ryanair is said to be on the list of investors who have so far expressed an interest in the privatisation.

A small tranche of the shares will be reserved for the public in what as seen as litmus test for domestic investor faith in Spain’s renewed economic growth. The final details have yet to be announced, but it is expected that 21% of the non-controlling tranche will be sold to two to four core shareholders in a separate auction process.

Advertisement

Secretary of state for infrastructure, Rafael Catalá, said the government was working on preparing the prospectus for the sale. "About six or seven [investors] have shown interest and they have to put in binding offers," he said. The remaining 28% will be sold to domestic and foreign investors.

AENA is Europe’s biggest airport operator, with profits of €597m last year, ahead of Heathrow Holding Group (€550m) and Aéroport de Paris (€305m). The company also ranks as the top airport operator in the world in terms of passengers, handling 187.4 million travellers last year. AENA owns 46 airports in Spain and several abroad, including the UK’s Luton and Colombia’s Calí.

AENA recently completed a radical restructuring programme which rescued the company from the brink of bankruptcy in 2000. This was accomplished through a big increase in airport fees, an 11% reduction of its debt and a reduction of its workforce by 1200 employees. “AENA is today a paradigm of improvement in public sector management,” said Mr Catalá.  

“Greater efficiency for AENA will no doubt act as a stimulus for Spain’s air transport industry and its associated strategic sectors, such as tourism and trade,” said Ana Pastor, minister for promotion, on announcing plans for AENA’s partial privatisation. The ministry at that time set up ENAIRE as a public holding company to manage the privatisation process. Ms Pastor expressed confidence that placing 49% AENA in private hands, the last major item of family silver still owned by the government, would consolidate the company’s standing as an international reference point in the airport operator sector.

“AENA has carried out a deep restructuring process between 2011 and 2014,” Ms Pastor said. “The entry of private investors in AENA will serve to strengthen the company.” Following the IPO, Spain will approve a new legal framework for the airport industry, including a method for setting landing fees, she said.