MADRID (AFP) - The Spanish government said Friday it would float a section of the world's largest airport operator Aena as part of a much-delayed privatisation of the firm, Europe's first major stock market listing of the year.
The government will list 28 per cent of the operator on the stock market and has agreed to sell another 21 per cent to three private-sector anchor investors, Transport Minister Ana Pastor told a news conference.
It will retain a narrow majority of 51 per cent in Aena, which runs 46 airports and two heliports in Spain and another 15 in Latin America, the United States and Europe, including London's Luton.
Aena is the world's largest airport operator by passenger numbers, with nearly 195.9 million traveller arrivals or departures last year, a 4.5 per cent increase over 2013.
It was hit hard by Spain's economic downturn and underwent a massive overhaul which included firing 20 per cent of its workers and a rise in airport taxes that have help restore it back to financial health.
The company reported a net profit of €596.7 million (S$900 million) for 2013, emerging from a net loss of €63.5 million the previous year.
Results for 2014 are not yet available but Aena said its revenues rose 6.4 per cent during the first nine months to €2.39 billion due to a rise in airport traffic as Spain's economy picked up and stronger sales from duty free shops.
"The entry of private capital is possible now after a deep transformation of the company to make it profitable," Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria told the news conference.
The company was initially scheduled to be listed in November but the operation had to be cancelled at the last moment after government officials discovered that there had not been a public tender for the role of auditor.
Aena said the price range for next month's listing was set at €43 to €55 per share, which values the company at between €6.45 billion and €8.25 billion.
That is higher than the price range for the listing planned for November which was aborted of €41.5 to €53.5, a figure deemed too high at the time by most analysts.
But according to Spanish media reports Aena concluded that the rise in passenger traffic and its improved results justify a higher price range this time around.
Spain's previous Socialist government had sought in 2011 to sell 90.05 per cent of the shares in airports in Madrid and Barcelona, aiming to raise €5.3 billion.
That plan had also included the sale of a 49 per cent stake in Aena but was abandoned ahead of an early general election in November 2011, which were won in a landslide by the conservative Popular Party.
In January 2012 the new conservative government was forced to shelf plans to privatise the airports because of "unfavourable" market conditions.
The government agreed last year to sell 21 per cent of Aena to three anchor investors - Spanish infrastructure group Ferrovial, British investment fund TCI and Spain's Corporacion Financiera Alba fund.