Monday, 9 July 2012

Abertis sees credit rating drop due to Spanish toll road demand

Spanish toll road investor Abertis and its French subsidiary SANEF have both had their credit ratings cut to BBB by Standard & Poors according to Reuters.

Abertis has a network of 1500km of toll motorways in Spain via 8 subsidiaries (59% of toll roads in Spain by length), and a minority stake in another 200km of toll roads in Spain. It also has a nearly 15% share of Portuguese toll road operator Brisa, and 25% ownership of RMG (company holding non-tolled concessions on two UK roads). It also owns or partly owns companies responsible for around 700km of Chilean toll roads, has a part share in concessions over 89km of roads in Puerto Rico and has a controlling stake in the concession of one road in Argentina.

SANEF has a network of 17570km of almost entirely toll motorways in France, in the north and east.

The reason given for the downgrade is “of volatility in traffic volumes experienced by its Spanish toll road network operators”

Interesting statistics from the press release:

- Average daily traffic declined by 24% between 2007 and 2011 on Abertis's Spanish toll roads;
- In 2012, S&P forecasts a further contraction by 9% on Spanish toll roads;

- This is driven by very high unemployment, weak economy;

- Abertis's Spanish toll roads have greater exposure to competition from untolled roads than similar roads in France or Italy.

- 80% of dividends in past three years originated from Spanish toll roads, with concessionaire Acesa (541km of road) contributing 70% of that. This decline will be partly offset by good performance on toll roads elsewhere, and expected tariff increases and cost savings.

However, S&P sees risks in the proposed acquisition of the Brazilian and Chilean toll road operators of Obrascon Huarte Lain (OHL) which includes over 3100km of roads in Brazil and around 340km of roads in Chile because it Brazil is:

-- An emerging economy, with a soft currency that could suffer  depreciation vis-a-vis the euro. 
-- A relatively dynamic regulatory environment in Brazil, where the bulk of the operations to be integrated are located. Unilateral changes to concessions are allowed in Brazil, although appropriate remuneration must be provided to the toll road operator to restore the concession's economic
-- A greater proportion of heavy vehicle traffic, which we view as more volatile than light vehicle traffic. Heavy vehicle traffic volumes account for more than 30% of total traffic volumes on the roads to be integrated, compared with 15% on average on Abertis' network.

On SANEF, S&P says:

Sanef operates the third-largest interconnected toll road network in France. Although the company is exposed to variations in traffic volumes, it benefits from a strong competitive position; favorable concession agreements, including yearly inflation-linked tariff increases; high profitability, and positive free cash flows. We consider the risk of acquisitions and diversification to be low. These strengths are partly offset by Sanef's high indebtedness, and its relatively rigid dividend policy.


Even a casual observer of Spain's economy can see the crash of property and construction dramatically affecting overall demand, and it appears far too many concessions were predicated on forecasts of demand that now look unattainable in the medium term.  Abertis may be big enough to hold onto most of what it has, but it is likely this sector will remain tough for some time, and there is pressure to have consolidation and refinancing so that such roads can be on a sustainable footing.  There is rumour that the Spanish government is considering how to address these problems, and it may even think about having some form of charges on existing roads.

No comments:

Post a Comment