Thursday, July 25, 2024

Australian infrastructure giant plots Heathrow Airport swoop

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This could see Macquarie leapfrog Ardian and become the linchpin in the discussions. The investment bank is expected to buy the remaining 35pc that is up for grabs, allowing Ardian and Saudi Arabia’s state-backed Public Investment Fund to go ahead with purchasing 25pc. The talks are in danger of collapsing unless all the shareholders are able to sell out.

Alternatively, City sources said Macquarie possessed the firepower to mount a competing bid for the entire 60pc stake that is on the block. It manages nearly half a trillion pounds worth of assets around the world.

Macquarie’s interest may be part of ongoing attempts to move on from its controversial ownership of another strategically important piece of UK infrastructure. Critics lay much of the blame for the current predicament of Thames Water at the door of Macquarie, which owned the company for more than a decade from 2006 to 2017.

Britain’s biggest water supplier is facing the prospect of a government-engineered rescue as it buckles under the weight of nearly £19bn of borrowings, roughly three quarters of which is a hangover from Macquarie’s time in charge.

Heathrow has been dogged by similar concerns about its finances. Since Ferrovial’s initial investment in 2006, the airport’s borrowings have ballooned to nearly £17bn, forcing it to fork out £1.5bn in interest payments alone last year.

A shake-up of Heathrow’s shareholder base comes as the Government attempts to secure new powers to influence the independent allocation of slots at Britain’s airports. The shift was revealed in a recent consultation document from the Department for Transport, which said it was proposing to create new powers allowing the Secretary of State to intervene and overrule them.

It is understood that proposed changes to slot allocation rules have inflamed tensions with airlines. An industry source said the changes would “risk adding extra cost and complexity” to their operations. Chris Bosworth, an aviation consultant, said the changes could mean slots were handed out in response to diplomatic pressure from governments around the world seeking an advantage for their flag carriers in exchange for trade deals or other favours.

Macquarie declined to comment.

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