Race hots up for Aldeasa

Autogrill, the world’s biggest manager of airport and highway restaurants, is in pole position to acquire Spanish duty free operator Aldeasa going into the final round of the auction that already values the business at €693m. By acquiring Aldeasa, the bidders are aiming to profit from an increase in tourism that means more money is being spent at airports.

Italy-based Autogrill offered €33 per share for Aldeasa, trumping a €31 prior offer from Advent International and a €29 per share bid from a consortium led by Mercapital.

The auction is now going into a sealed bid stage, with the aim of moving towards a final bidder towards the end of the month. This is the first time a Spanish auction has operated under the protocol, owing to a change in ALDEASA, Spanish law that previously allowed only the initial bidder to make a final offer.

Spanish analysts believe that Mercapital and its bidding partners Corporacion Financiera Alba and Omega are the least likely parties to raise their bid. This is despite moves by the Spanish Government, which some had dubbed protectionist and helpful for the consortium.

AENA, the Spanish airport authority, said would rewrite contracts that determine how much Aldeasa pays for its concessions at airports. Tightening of the contracts could knock up to €15m off the group’s results, Spanish financial sources said, potentially reducing its attractiveness for foreign bidders.

That argument did not deter Advent or Autogrill, however, which both came in with their higher offers after the event. Shares in Aldeasa dropped 3.45% to €32.35 immediately after the news from the Government.

Acquisition of Aldeasa makes sense for both Advent and Autogrill, according to analysts. Altadis owns 35% of Aldeasa and will buy 50% of an Autogrill venture that will own Aldeasa, paying for it with its current stake and additional money.

At 10x Ebitda, the Autogrill bid is steep, but Advent is also chasing synergies between Aldeasa and its portfolio company Dufry, the world’s fourth largest duty free retailer. This bid also needs approval from Spanish regulators on competition grounds, which could delay the process. Advent is bidding via Dufry and has made its bid conditional on it gaining a 51% stake in Aldeasa. Autogrill’s bid makes no such stipulation.