| 4 March 2024, Monday |

Sydney Airport sale a step closer after improved $17.4 bln offer

After sweetening its takeover offer to A$23.6 billion ($17.4 billion), an infrastructure investor group was granted permission to perform due diligence on Sydney Airport Holdings Pt Ltd on Monday, bringing the sale of Australia’s largest airport one step closer.

The proposal boosted the airport’s stock by 5%, with analysts predicting that a rival bid would be unlikely given the size of the capital required and foreign ownership regulations that require the airport to be 51 percent controlled by Australians.

In a note, Credit Suisse analysts wrote, “We attribute a high probability of a deal completing given the board’s pledge to unanimously support the (consortium’s) offer if there is no alternative higher offer.”

Sydney Airport is the country’s sole publicly traded airport, and a purchase would be a long-term investment on the travel industry, which has been hit hard by the pandemic. Once 80 percent of adults are properly vaccinated, which is expected by the end of the year, the government wants to gradually open its borders.

A successful takeover would be among the largest buyouts ever of an Australian firm and underline a year of stellar deal activity, that has already seen a mega $29 billion buyout of Afterpay by Square.

The improved offer of A$8.75 a share – an increase of 3.6% – follows prior proposals from the consortium pitched at A$8.45 and A$8.25, both of which were rejected by the airport operator’s board as inadequate.

Sydney Airport shares were trading at A$8.40 on Monday morning, below the offer price, due to the length of the time the transaction will take to complete as well as the limited prospects for a rival bid.

“An alternative bidder appears highly unlikely,” Jefferies analyst Anthony Moulder said in a note to clients.

The bidding consortium, Sydney Aviation Alliance (SAA), is comprised of Australian investors IFM Investors, QSuper and Australian Super and U.S.-based Global Infrastructure Partners.

Record-low interest rates have prompted pension funds and their investment managers to chase higher yields. Australia’s other major airports are unlisted and owned by pension funds and infrastructure investors.

SAA has been granted non-exclusive due diligence that is expected to take four weeks after signing a non-disclosure agreement, Sydney Airport said.

If SAA makes an acceptable binding proposal, the current intention is for the board to recommend it in the absence of a superior offer, the airport operator added.

UniSuper, Sydney Airport’s biggest shareholder with a 15.3% stake, said it was open to rolling that equity into an investment in the privatized company, as required as part of the bid conditions.

“The price represents a very full valuation for the airport, particularly given the uncertain medium-term outlook for international travel,” UniSuper Chief Investment Officer John Pearce said in a statement.

The deal will require an independent expert’s report, approval from 75% of shareholders and a green light from the competition regulator and the Foreign Investment Review Board, in a process that typically takes months to complete.

Jamie Hanna, deputy head of investments at VanEck, said he believed SAA would consider increasing its bid after examining the airport’s books given the improving travel outlook.

An SAA spokesperson said the consortium welcomed the announcement and looked forward to working with Sydney Airport’s board to finalize the transaction.

  • Reuters