The Competition Commission is to begin screening bidders for Gatwick Airport to ensure they have sufficient funds and are not relying on debt.
The watchdog is endeavouring to avoid a repeat of Ferrovial’s all-debt acquisition of BAA three years ago. The £10.5bn deal burdened the Spanish group with massive debts, leaving it unable to invest sufficiently in new infrastructure.BAA hopes to sell Gatwick, Britain’s second largest airport for £2bn. The commission will require bidders to front about a third in cash.
The Commission will only have formal powers to rule on the break-up of BAA after the publication of its final report of its two-year investigation. The announcement is expected in coming weeks.
Ferrovial has resigned itself to the inevitable sell-off and has decided to work closely with the Commission on the early sale of Gatwick.
The commission will judge each bid on four criteria: financial strength, lack of competition overlap, independence from BAA, and appropriate airport management experience.
Six consortiums submitted expressions of interest in Gatwick last month, but three have already dropped out. Yesterday one of the favourites, 3i Infrastructure, withdrew its offer amid speculation it was neither ready nor able to meet the £2bn price tag.
BAA has dismissed the overvaluation claims by 3i Infrastructure, saying the market would dictate the price and it was confident of achieving offers at a significant premium to its Regulated Asset Base of £1.65bn.
The confirmed remaining potential buyers are: Global Infrastructure Partners, a joint venture between General Electric and Credit Suisse; Citigroup with Vancouver Airport Services and John Hancock Life Insurance Company, bidding jointly as Lysander Gatwick Investment Group. And Manchester Airports Group and Canada’s Borealis which are also jointly involved.