Aéroports de Paris. Towards a crash for the state

Since 2005, the State has been the majority shareholder of Aéroports de Paris (ADP), including Orly and Roissy-Charles de Gaulle, Le Bourget, as well as several platforms around the world. For 2018, ADP is expected to pay dividends to shareholders of 382 million euros, half of which will be returned to the government. By 2020, the state will have recovered nearly 1 billion euros. A profitable asset that the government wants to get rid of (with Engie and the French Games) to abound an "investment fund for innovation" of 10 billion euros. In theory, it is about getting out of cash to finance innovative projects. In practice, the fund would earn 250 to 300 million a year, less than what the three companies pay in dividends!

In addition, the state plays Russian roulette with Aéroports de Paris and it could be expensive. The company has a perpetual franchise, tied to the majority stake of the state. Before selling its shares, the State is obliged to limit this concession in time. This involves compensating other shareholders (such as Vinci) for the loss of a perpetual income now limited to seventy years. An incalculable amount. "Seventy-year business plans would have to be compared to infinite plans," says a chartered accountant. Impossible. Speaking of 1 billion euros, the government is taking a cautious stance. An amount that satisfies everyone is needed to avoid shareholder recourse. "So on a sale estimated at 8 or 9 billion euros, the state automatically loses 1 billion. But that's not all. The bill provides for the state to buy back ADP's assets in seventy years and again that's the big blur. Impossible to know the value of the company in 2089! In 2018, it is 12.8 billion euros: in a high assumption, this value would only grow and the state would not be able to buy the company it owned. In a low assumption, "if ADP does not make any investment," according to the accountant, the value will drop to zero and the state may recover a bloodless infrastructure.

Already a billion euros of loss

And ADP has a peculiarity. In Toulouse, Nice or Lyon, the private sector is a shareholder of the companies that manage the airport, but does not own the domain. However, ADP owns 6,600 hectares, of which 2,000 are dedicated to real estate and commercial activities, which generate most of the profit. The private sector could be tempted to focus its investments on these activities, such as Clermont-Ferrand, which Vinci has been operating since 2008, where the CGT noted the increase in car park rates, the rise in rents paid by businesses and aeronautical fees. But ADP could also grow its land reserve. On this point, the Agency of State participations would provide, according to a source in Bercy, that the buyer can not assign the land "without authorization from the State and that, in case of transfer, the gain is shared . The state would also control the use of land.

But will the state really manage to control ADP? For an airport expert, "there is often an asymmetry of information and if senior officials do not know perfectly the operation of the air, they miss! All this will be enacted by specifications, negotiated between the state and the buyer, which will not be made public. With a risk: the more the state tries to impose a strong control, the less the candidates will agree to pay. Unless, in contrast, the government gives a blank check to the buyer, as it did in Toulouse with a shareholder pact that allowed the Chinese investor to control the company, while minority share at 49.9%, according to the Court of Auditors. Purchased 308 million euros in 2015, these shares are about to be sold nearly 500 million three years later. Meanwhile, the shareholder used in the treasury of Toulouse-Blagnac Airport, pour pour nearly 20 million dividends.

The example of Rennes and Nantes

Yet, for sale, the state had gotten more than hoped! But not without consequence: "If the buyer pays too much, explains Arnaud Boucheix, CGT Vinci Airports, then he seeks to make a profit by maximizing the charges. In Toulouse, the Court of Auditors notes a stabilization of the workforce since 2015, whereas the traffic increases. For Rodolphe Robert, union representative, this translates into non-replacements at retirement and reorganization of positions. An optimization already passed by Clermont-Ferrand, with the development of a position of "versatile operating agent", which must "coordinate ground services and manage the plane in stopover", "manage requests for assistance and billing "," manage the physical and telephone reception "or" manage the parking vehicles ", among others, while also working on safety and security! Remunerated between 1,489 euros gross and 1,659 euros gross. At the same time, companies "limit their investment needs", as the Court of Auditors explains. For Daniel Bertone, CGT ADP, it is about "saturating the infrastructure to increase its profitability".

In Rennes, where Vinci Airports has been a shareholder since 2010, the Brittany regional auditor's chamber, in a report dated October 2018, describes financial arrangements "very favorable to shareholders", such as loans contracted by the company from Vinci, rates up to 10%, while it has a cash of 11.2 million euros! In seven years, shareholders (Vinci and CCI) have invested 4 million and received 2 million euros in dividends. The Brittany region, owner of the airport, has invested 8 million without touching anything, not being a shareholder.

Already operating Rennes, Nantes, Lyon, Clermont-Ferrand and eight other platforms in France, Vinci Airports seems ready to put the price to obtain ADP. Before the works council in December 2017, its CEO, Xavier Huillard, wanted to "play" from the moment he could obtain more than 30% of the shares. "We will see after the parliamentary debates how much the state wants to sell shares and to whom, according to the auction," they say to Bercy. Xavier Huillard spoke, him, a stock market value of 15 billion and said: "It is not as excessive as that" … For their part, the seven departments of the Paris region are ready to put 6 billion euros on the table, with an investment fund, to maintain public control within the group to prevent "the private cares more about its profitability than territories and populations! "Assures Patrick Devedjian, president LR of Hauts-de-Seine.

After the highways, another nice gift for Vinci!

For its part, the construction group assumes its bulimia of concessions (in France, it operates more than half of the motorway network and the high-speed line Tours-Bordeaux), but with what impact on the French airport strategy? For the CGT, "the farmers develop autonomous strategies that sometimes compete with the financial support of local authorities". An opinion shared by the airport expert, who believes that Vinci has not invested in Rennes to promote its Nantes platform.

But it is unlikely that the government will deviate from its trajectory. Bruno Le Maire's cabinet supports "an ideological choice": "It is not the role of the state to take care of luxury boutiques or hotels that account for 70% of ADP's result. Our role is to innovate and ensure a fixed return for this, with the innovation fund … Finally almost fixed, because it will be placed on the stock market. "

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