06 Feb 2018

Airport stakes hot property as bankers hone in on Brisbane

A $1 billion-odd stake in Brisbane Airport is in the spotlight following a better than expected auction result for Cairns Airport owner North Queensland Airports.

Auckland International Airport, which owns 24.55 per cent of North Queensland Airports, served up a timely reminder on just how valuable stakes in Australian airports are on Tuesday when it signed a $370 million deal with two of its fellow investors.

The deal, which is subject to pre-emptive rights of North Queensland Airports' only other shareholder, valued the Cairns Airport at about 20-times profit and will have airport stakes rocketing up banker pitchbooks as they begin marketing this year's deal contenders.

Stakes in Australian airports are hard to come by given the finite number of airfields, cross-ownership restrictions and the long-life funds that already make up their share registers.

But there is one stake that has caught bankers and infrastructure managers' attention, and it is another passive stake held by an investor that is used to operating airports.

Amerstdam Airport Schipol owns 18.7 per cent of Brisbane Airport owner Brisbane Airport Corporation, picking up an initial stake at the airport's privatisation and adding to it about 10-years ago. The stake is expected to be worth more than $1 billion, based on Brisbane Airport Corp's $250 million-odd annual profit and debt load.

Bankers are known to be circling the stake, and have been for some time.

So far, they have had little success in convincing the airport owner to sell, however the pitching is expected to continue.

Past deals would suggest that should the stake come up for sale, it would go to one of Brisbane Airport's other existing shareholders under pre-emptive clauses. QIC Ltd is the biggest owner with a 25 per cent stake, while funds run by Colonial First State Global Asset Management own 17 per cent and IFM Investors has another 13.8 per cent.

Another stake likely to be considered is the 50 per cent of North Queensland Airports owned by a fund run by JPMorgan Asset Management.

The fact Auckland International Airport left the JPMorgan fund out of the process for North Queensland Airports suggests its fellow investor either did not see the need to go above 50 per cent, or may itself be falling out of love with the asset.

JPMorgan will be shown the 24.55 per cent stake again as part of the pre-emption agreement. First NZ and Credit Suisse advised Auckland International, while RBC Capital Markets advised the buyers Perron Investments and The Infrastructure Fund.



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