Sydney Airport Gets $17 Billion Offer in Bet on Travel Rebound

Sydney Airport received a A$22.3 billion ($17 billion) takeover offer from a group including IFM Investors in what would be Australia’s largest acquisition and one of the boldest bets on a recovery in global travel since the pandemic started.

The offer values Sydney Airport shares at A$8.25 each, the company said in a statement Monday. While that’s 42% higher than Friday’s closing price, it’s below the stock’s peak of around A$9 in late 2019 before Covid-19 devastated aviation. The shares closed up 34% to A$7.76 on Monday.

Sydney Airport Offer at Premium Now, Not Pre-Covid: M&A Snapshot

The suitors are seeking to capitalize on the slump in market value at Australia’s largest airport before global travel starts to pick up. While airlines worldwide have received billions of dollars in government handouts to survive the crisis, infrastructure providers like airports haven’t been helped on the same scale.

Sydney Airport, Australia’s main overseas gateway, has also been smashed by one of the most restrictive border policies of the global health crisis. The government effectively closed the international border in March last year, and also barred citizens from leaving. On the eve of the pandemic, close to 4 million passengers passed through Sydney Airport every month, a figure that almost completely evaporated within weeks.

The border is expected to stay closed until mid-2022 given Australia’s lagging vaccination program.

Sydney Airport Gets $17 Billion Offer in Bet on Travel Rebound

Rolling state border closures to contain sporadic outbreaks have also played havoc with domestic travel. Sydney is in the midst of a two-week lockdown coinciding with winter school holidays when many people usually head north to warmer climes in Queensland.

However, a buyer of Sydney Airport may not have to wait long before air-travel demand more than recovers its losses. According to the International Air Transport Association, which represents almost 300 airlines worldwide, global passenger numbers will surpass pre-Covid levels in 2023.

IFM Investors, an infrastructure manager owned by a group of Australian not-for-profit pension funds, is a long-term investor that can weather another year of travel restrictions on a bet that tourism will soon return to normal. Including debt, the offer values Sydney Airport at A$30.4 billion, or about five times more than the A$5.6 billion the airport fetched when it was sold by the government in 2002.

IFM’s airport assets include Manchester Airports Group and Vienna International Airport, as well as stake in gateways in Melbourne, Perth, Adelaide and Brisbane. Collectively, the consortium has more than A$177 billion of infrastructure funds under management globally, including stakes in 20 airports, it said in a separate statement on Monday.

Sydney Airport Gets $17 Billion Offer in Bet on Travel Rebound

Sydney Airport said it’s considering “whether the proposal is reflective of the underlying value of the airport given its long-term remaining concession and the expected short-term impact of the pandemic.”

What Bloomberg Intelligence says:

“A takeover bid for Sydney Airport could enable early monetization of its recovery potential, which may only be visible in 2022 as vaccination promotes a more-sustained traffic rebound. Yet the indicative price is 8% below its pre-pandemic peak, and may not reflect the long-term return opportunities for this long-duration, essential infrastructure.”

--Denise Wong, infrastructure analyst

A successful deal at the offer price would be the largest on record for an Australian company inclusive of debt, eclipsing the A$29 billion Europe’s Unibail-Rodamco paid for mall owner Westfield in 2017, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Sydney Airport named Barrenjoey Capital Partners and UBS Group AG as financial advisers. Goldman Sachs Group Inc. is advising the bidding group, which also includes QSuper Board and Global Infrastructure Management LLC.

One of the conditions of the offer is that Australian pension fund UniSuper Ltd., which owns about 15% of Sydney Airport, agrees to reinvest its equity interest for an equivalent stake in the consortium’s holding vehicle, according to the statement.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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