First Pacific May Bid for Manila Airport, Pangilinan Says

First Pacific May Bid for Manila Airport
Passengers wait in Terminal 2 of Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) in Manila, the Philippines. The 30-year-old Ninoy Aquino International Airport was listed as the world’s worst in the travel blog The Guide to Sleeping in Airports. Photographer: Edwin Tuyay/Bloomberg

First Pacific Co., the Asian food, utilities and resources company controlled by billionaire Anthoni Salim, may bid for Manila’s international airport as the Philippines seeks to lure investment.

“Infrastructure is something the country needs,” First Pacific Chief Executive Officer Manuel Pangilinan, 65, said in an interview in Manila. He said Hong Kong-based First Pacific is “keen” to bid for the airport, which the government estimates may raise as much as $2.5 billion.

President Benigno Aquino’s administration wants to sell or revamp the 30-year-old airport, named by a blog last month as the world’s worst, under its plans to speed up economic growth. First Pacific, San Miguel Corp. and Ayala Corp. are among companies seeking to bolster revenue from expansion in airports, power and mining in the Philippines as the government pursues infrastructure investments.

“Just like with any venture, First Pacific considered the long-term gain out of it,” Harry Liu, president of Summit Securities Inc., said by phone. “It’s vital for development, so I think it’s a positive project” for the Philippines, he said.

First Pacific may also buy coal and gold mines in Indonesia from Salim, Pangilinan said in the Oct. 27 interview, without providing more details.

Metro Pacific Unit

Bidding related to both airports will be carried out through First Pacific’s unit, Metro Pacific Investments Corp., said the executive, who is also chairman of the Philippines’ biggest phone company, chief executive of the top electricity retailer and chairman and CEO of the largest metals producer.

First Pacific fell 5.8 percent, the most since Sept. 26, to HK$7.44 at the close in Hong Kong trading, while the benchmark Hang Seng Index declined 2.5 percent. Metro Pacific lost 2.8 percent to 3.10 pesos at the close of Manila trading.

A successful bid would be Metro Pacific’s biggest investment, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The company spent more than $1 billion in 2009 and 2010 acquiring shares in Manila Electric Co., the Philippines’ largest power retailer, the data show.

The government will consider selling the Manila airport complex to raise as much as $2.5 billion to build a bigger facility north of the capital in the Clark Freeport Zone, once the site of a U.S. military base, the Department of Transportation and Communications said Oct. 19. Depending on tourism growth, the government may retain both airports or only the Clark facility, it said in a statement.

Attracting Investors, Tourists

“Airports are a nation’s portal,” said Jonathan Ravelas, chief market strategist at Banco De Oro Unibank Inc., the nation’s largest lender. “We need to have the right infrastructure to attract investors and boost tourism that will help support economic growth.”

The Ninoy Aquino International Airport, named after the father of the current Philippine president, was listed as the world’s worst in the travel blog, The Guide to Sleeping in Airports.

“This will serve as a challenge to do what we have to do faster and better,” Transportation Secretary Mar Roxas said in the statement, referring to the airport ranking.

Philippine Growth

Growth in the Philippines’ $200 billion economy slowed for a fourth straight quarter in the three months through June. Foreign investments in the country totaled $32.3 billion in the four decades to 2009, lagging behind the $285.8 billion in Singapore and $104.1 billion in Thailand, data from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development show.

First Pacific generated 91 percent of last year’s revenue from consumer food products and the remainder from infrastructure and property, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Metro Pacific made 65 percent of 2010 sales in water utilities and 32 percent in toll operations, the data show.

Capital spending at First Pacific companies in the Philippines may reach a combined $9 billion between 2012 and 2016, most of which will be funded by operations, Pangilinan said. He didn’t give a comparative figure.

Pangilinan has agreed in principle to buy Philippine Airlines Inc., the money-losing carrier facing an employee dispute, from controlling shareholder Lucio Tan, Philippine Daily Inquirer reported Sept. 22.

“It is very clear that it does need a bit of help,” Pangilinan said at a forum last week, referring to the airline. “In a way you’re impelled by your civic duty to take a look at it and do something for its good.”

At the Bloomberg interview after the forum, the executive said he isn’t in talks with Philippine Airlines or its shareholders about a stake purchase.

Power Generation

Pangilinan also said Manila Electric Co., the Philippines’ largest power retailer, needs to enter the electricity-generation business to expand its revenue stream. Building power plants with a capacity of between 1,500 megawatts and 2,000 megawatts is the “broad plan” in the next few years, he said.

The power retailer will meet its 14 billion-peso target for core profit, or earnings minus one-time gains and charges, this year, he said.

Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co., the country’s biggest phone company and a unit of First Pacific, bought control of Digital Telecommunications Philippines Inc. last week. Pangilinan said the purchase may have a “modest, favorable impact” on the phone operator in the near term.

Manila-based PLDT today cut its forecast for core net income this year to 39 billion pesos from 40.5 billion pesos after third-quarter profit fell 10 percent as revenue from mobile-phone calls and text messages declined.

Manila Electric lost 0.9 percent to 232.80 pesos, and PLDT fell 1.3 percent to 2,334 pesos.

First Pacific units including Maynilad Water Services Inc., Metro Pacific Tollways Corp. and Philex Mining Corp., the Philippines’ largest metals producer, all “offer opportunities for growth,” Pangilinan said. “It’s just a question of identifying and seeking ways for them to grow.”

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