China takes 10% stake in Heathrow

1 Nov

Heathrow is now part-owned by the Chinese state after the country’s sovereign wealth fund acquired a 10% stake in the UK’s largest airport.

The deal means Heathrow will be more than 40% controlled by the Chinese, Qatari and Singaporean governments, dwarfing the 34% stake held by Spain’s Ferrovial. Heathrow, which has shed its former BAA title, said the £257m deal with China Investment Corporation (CIC) would help ensure the airport retains its position as “one of the best infrastructure assets in the world.”

CIC has about $410bn of assets under management and its investments include shareholdings in the Morgan Stanley investment bank. Ferrovial, whose reputation as an airport owner in the UK has been dented by crises such as the 2006 security scare and the 2010 snow crisis, said it remained committed to Heathrow, but the deal represents another significant chunk of a shareholding that once stood at 55%.

Íñigo Meirás, chief executive of Ferrovial, said: “This sale of a stake in Heathrow Airport Holdings is a further part of Ferrovial’s investment diversification strategy. We will continue to work with the new shareholders and with existing shareholders to ensure Heathrow retains its position as one of the best infrastructure assets in the world.”

A consortium led by Ferrovial acquired the then BAA in June 2006, when the airport operator owned seven airports across Britain. Competition regulators enforced the sale of Gatwick and Edinburgh, with Stansted likely to follow after BAA gave up the legal battle earlier this year, leaving the renamed Heathrow Airport Holdings still in charge of Glasgow, Aberdeen and Southampton.

A source close to Heathrow said: “It demonstrates the breadth of international confidence there is in the business. We now have investors based in Europe, North America, the Middle East and Asia, including sovereign wealth funds from Qatar, China and Singapore.”

The news may also be seen as damaging to London mayor Boris Johnson’s ambitions for a new hub airport, possibly in the Thames estuary. Johnson has long claimed that a consortium of sovereign wealth funds, believed to include CIC, was ready to back his vision. However, those investors are now heavily backing Heathrow, an airport that most believe could not co-exist with a new hub elsewhere.

• This article was amended on 1/11/2012 to correct the figure of the Chinese sovereign wealth fund stake in Heathrow to to 10%.

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