Brazil airport auction tests investor confidence in Bolsonaro

RIO DE JANEIRO (AFP) – Spain’s Aena snapped up six airports in Brazil on Friday, in an auction seen as the first major test of foreign investor confidence in Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro’s market-friendly agenda.

The initial sale of concessions to 12 airports generated 2.3 billion reais – more than 10 times the minimum fee required – which Bolsonaro said signalled “confidence” in Latin America’s biggest economy was returning.

“It’s Brazil growing again!” the far-right leader tweeted, hailing a “great victory.”

Rights to operate the airports for 30 years – sold in three separate lots – were also won by Flughafen Zurich of Switzerland and a Brazilian consortium, Aeroeste. Nine groups competed.

The administrators must invest 3.5 billion reais during the term of the concession.

Brazil is to complete the sale of concessions to 42 airports between 2020 and 2022, including Santos Dumont in Rio de Janeiro and Congonhas in Sao Paulo. The airports auctioned Friday represent 9.5 per cent of the domestic market.

Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro. – AP

Six airports in northeastern Brazil were bought by Aena, two in the centre-west went to Zurich, and four in the southeast to Aeroeste.

Aena’s successful tender included the auction’s most lucrative prize, tourist-magnet Recife airport, a destination seen as having the biggest potential because of its relative proximity to Europe.

Infrastructure minister Tarcisio Freitas said the auction was “a great demonstration of confidence in the country”.

Bolsonaro’s conservative predecessor Michel Temer initiated a programme of privatisations and concessions.

But Bolsonaro, who came to power in January, has made privatising state-owned companies and overhauling the costly pension system key planks of his policy to reduce soaring public debt and regain investor confidence.

The auction, organised by the National Agency for Civil Aviation and the Sao Paulo stock exchange, was also seen as a test of the market’s support for Bolsonaro’s economy minister Paulo Guedes, a United States (US)-trained free-marketeer.

Guedes is spearheading the government’s policy to inject pro-business vigor into an economy still bearing the scars of a record-breaking 2015-2016 recession.

Bolsonaro said previously that of the 138 companies run by the federal government, “100 could be privatised”.

Brazil ranks among the countries with the highest number of public companies. But the lack of any detail or progress has disappointed investors.