EMEA: Major Italian airport stake sale set to launch

24 September 2018 - 12:00 am UTC

Public bodies in Italy are gearing up to sell a stake in a major airport concessionaire in a deal expected to value the whole business at some EUR 500m, amidst growing demand for the sector which might be dampened by the country’s current market climate.

The Chamber of Commerce of Catania and Western Sicily own 61.2% in the airport concessionaire Società Aeroporto Catania (SAC), which operates Sicily’s largest airport, as well as the largest airport in southern Italy and the country’s sixth by passenger numbers. Four other local authorities own the remaining 38.8% stake.

It is unclear how many SAC shares will eventually sell, but at least 50% plus one share is expected to be put up for sale, sources said.

The president of the Chamber of Commerce, Pietro Agen, confirmed last month that the airport would soon start seeking advisers about how to proceed with the privatisation process – although no tender for advisers has been launched to date.

Agen said earlier this year that 100% of the airport’s shares might be worth some EUR 1bn – equivalent to a 30 times EBITDA multiple based on 2017 figures.

This, however, was before the appointment of a government led by the populist Five Star movement and the increased market perception in country risk associated with the new government, which further increased following the Genoa incident and government threats to revoke the ASPI concession.

According to a source, due to the current market climate, even a 20 times EBITDA multiple (EUR 700m) is unlikely, but a 15 times multiple could be achievable.

Last year, in a much more favourable investment climate, InfraVia and DWS – formerly Deutsche Asset Management – acquired a majority stake in the Venice and Verona airports, paying a price which valued the asset at circa 15 times EBITDA, it is understood.

A process to appoint a new private owner of the Catania airport operator might take place next year, sources added.

For full-year 2017, SAC recorded 9.1m passengers, a 15% YoY increase. The company’s EBITDA rose by 24% YoY to EUR 35m. 2017 revenues rose 13% to EUR 82m while net profit was just below EUR 11m.

The Italian airport market is dominated by a small number of private investors, which are all likely to study the privatisation, according to sources. They include Atlantia, the owner of Aeroporti di Roma (ADR); F2i-controlled 2i Aeroporti, which owns shares in a network of regional airports, including those of Milan, Turin and Naples; and Venice Airport owner SAVE.

Both F2i and SAVE are also expected to participate in the forthcoming sale of Trieste Airport. The airport owner, Region Friuli Venezia Giulia, has finally decided to sell the majority of the airport concessionaire’s shares, after a previous tender failed to attract bids by a June 2018 deadline.

A fourth investor which might join the mix of potential bidders for Catania airport is Latin American conglomerate Corporación América, which controls another local airport concessionaire, Toscana Aeroporti. This company operates the Florence and Pisa airports in central Italy, and recently completed the sale of a minority stake to Investment Corporation of Dubai. As part of that deal, the two parties also signed an MoU to jointly explore airport acquisition opportunities in Italy and across the region.

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