May 7, 2013 12:28 pm

Hochtief sells airports division to pension fund for €1.1bn

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Hochtief, Germany’s largest builder by sales, has sold its airports division to a Canadian public pension fund for €1.1bn after struggling to offload the assets for several years.

Hochtief, which is majority owned by Spain’s Grupo ACS and whose recently installed chief executive Marcelino Fernández Verdes comes from the company, has sold the division to Canada’s Public Sector Pension Investment Board.

The German company said the transaction would involve a deconsolidation of the assets at a value of €1.5bn, including minority interests of €400m, and that it expected the sale to have no extraordinary earnings impact. The deal is expected to close by the second half of this year, Hochtief said.

The division, part of the Hochtief Concessions unit the company had attempted to spin off in a stock market listing in 2009, includes the airports at Athens, Budapest, Düsseldorf, Hamburg, Sydney and Tirana.

But bankers said potential buyers had been reluctant to take significant positions in the economies of Greece and Hungary amid the eurozone crisis.

Hochtief placed Concessions, which focused on operating and constructing airports, toll roads and infrastructure projects, up for sale again in 2011, but was forced to restructure the sale.

Mr Fernández Verdes said in February that Hochtief might pay some form of special dividend after the sale – which would also aid the debt problems of ACS as holder of 49.8 per cent of the German company. The Spanish group had net debt of about €6bn at the end of last year.

Other assets up for sale from the German group include the telecoms unit of Leighton, its Australian subsidiary, and other non-specified European assets as part of a drive to reduce its own debt, and build up its infrastructure unit.

Hochtief was recently dragged into a corporate governance dispute at Leighton Holdings, the Australian builder in which it holds 54 per cent, after its chairman resigned over the appointment of a non-executive director.

The German company has steadily exerted greater influence over Leighton since the debt-laden ACS became its dominant investor, informing Leighton’s directors earlier this year that it would be prepared to exercise its rights as the Australian company’s controlling shareholder at any point it saw fit. Last year it appointed Mr Fernández Verdes to the Leighton board.

In March, Leighton appointed Bob Humphris, a long-serving director, to replace Stephen Johns as chairman.

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