Spain’s ACS grabs crucial Hochtief stake

Spain's biggest public works group ACS said on Tuesday it had succeeded in snapping up more than 30 percent of shares in German rival Hochtief, a key step towards taking overall control.

Spain's ACS grabs crucial Hochtief stake
Photo: DPA

ACS, led by Real Madrid football club chairman Florentino Perez, said it had acquired 30.34 percent of the German group, which had battled furiously against the Spanish bid.

Under German law, ACS is now allowed to buy its prey’s shares on the open market, opening the way for it to take a majority stake and become the largest publics work group in Europe, or third biggest worldwide.

ACS’s global prospects and debt-laden balance sheet – it had €9.08 billion

in net debt on September 30 last year – would be strengthened by the acquisition of Hochtief, which has operations worldwide and no debt.

Hochtief chairman Herbert Lütkestratkötter has fought the Spanish takeover since it was launched unexpectedly December 1.

The offer closed December 29, but under German law the ACS offer is now re-opened from January 5-18 for Hochtief shareholders who had previously turned it down.

By mid-morning, ACS shares were 0.30 percent lower at €35.095 while Hochtief was down 1.17 percent at €63.51.

The ACS announcement caps a bitter struggle with Hochtief, which has described the Spanish offer as too low.

In an attempt to fend off the Spanish, it agreed December 6 for Qatar Holding to buy a 9.1 percent stake in Hochtief for about €400 million, diluting ACS’s stake. Hochtief’s board then formally rejected the offer December 15.

ACS, in reply, sweetened its offer to propose swapping nine of its shares, instead of eight, for every five shares of Hochtief.

And the German firm’s defence then took a body blow when major US-based shareholder Southeastern Asset Management announced December 16 it had lost

confidence in the Hochtief management and was selling roughly half of its 4.84-percent stake in the company to ACS.

A Southeastern statement said it had lost confidence in the management team because of “recent unacceptable steps,” a reference to Hochtief’s defensive sale of a 9.1 percent stake to Qatar.

ACS owned around 27.2 percent of Hochtief when it announced the offer and with the Southeastern Asset Management stake it already had close to 30 percent of the German firm.

Hochtief appeared to have accepted the inevitable success of the ACS offer when it reportedly made an agreement last week with its creditors smoothing the way for the Spanish entrant.


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‘Germans are coming back’: Spaniards sceptical over return of tourists

Germans will be allowed to travel to the popular Spanish island of Mallorca at Easter, which many hope will revive the flailing tourism industry. Yet many in Spain are asking if allowing an influx of tourists is worth it.

'Germans are coming back': Spaniards sceptical over return of tourists
German tourists in Mallorca in June 2020. Photo: DPA

After the travel warning for Mallorca was lifted, many people in Germany are already packing their bags for the popular destination, in real life or at least in their thoughts. 

Bookings are increasing rapidly on the coronavirus-plagued Spanish vacation island, and rekindling a positive outlook for tourism after months of doom-and-gloom. 

“This is fantastic news,” the German-language “Mallorca Zeitung” quoted tourist guide Adán André Alomar. Without a return of tourists, “the island would die of hunger,” Alomar continued. 

“The best news ever,” also cheered Ballermann restaurateur Juan Miguel Ferrer, pointing out that he saw “the light at the end of the tunnel”. 

As of Sunday, Mallorca and the entire Balearic archipelago were no longer considered to be risk areas for travel due to a vastly improved epidemiological situation there.

READ ALSO: Germany set to lift travel warning for parts of Spain and Portugal

The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) confirmed on its website on Friday that the regions no longer had enough infections to be considered risk areas.

After the Berlin decision, Ferrer, who heads the interest group “Palma Beach”, and his fellow campaigners – hoteliers, restaurant owners and other entrepreneurs – immediately announced the reopening of at least 15 hotels for a total of 4,000 visitors for the Easter weekend starting April 2nd. 

The respected analyst Miguel Otero tweeted, “The Germans are coming back!”

A win-win situation? Not so fast

Sun, beach and sangria for some, economic stimulus and ringing cash registers for others – a typical win-win situation? That’s not necessarily the case. 

Countless people in Spain are fuming. Until April 9th, according to a recent decision by the central government, locals are only allowed to leave their region in rare exceptional cases.

Visiting relatives or vacationing outside their own “autonomous community,” for example, are strictly forbidden. Germans and citizens of other countries, meanwhile, are allowed into the country with virtually no obstacles. From high risk countries, a PCR test is sufficient.

That’s why people are ranting everywhere these days. In cafés, in the media, on television, on the internet. And also in politics. Especially in the capital of Madrid, where residents are known to be particularly proud, argumentative and self-confident and are reluctant to be told what to do, the Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has become the bogeyman. 

The conservative regional government is ranting particularly loudly: “It is incomprehensible that someone from Madrid is not allowed to move freely in Spain, and a Frenchman, a German or a Belgian can enter,” criticized Health Minister Enrique Ruiz Escudero.

“Spain will be a bunker for Spaniards and an oasis for tourists from abroad at Easter,” headlined the newspaper “ABC” over the weekend.

READ ALSO: Will it be possible to go on holiday in Germany over Easter?

The paper “Última Hora” spoke of “arbitrariness”, and even the Mallorca Zeitung stated: “Easter vacations in Mallorca: for Germans yes, for Spaniards no”.

On the Internet, the indignation is no less great, with hundreds of daily complaints. “Let’s see if I got this right: I live in the south of Madrid. So at Easter, my daughter, who lives in Germany, is allowed to visit me, but my son, who lives in Illescas just five kilometres away from me, he’s not allowed to? Very logical,” Yeni protested on Twitter. 

Twitter user Jiménez Caballero also expressed surprise: “At Easter, I’m not allowed to go to my vacation home on the beach, but my neighbour who lives in Germany is allowed to?”

Could tourists cause a spike in numbers?

This is not just a matter of frustration, envy and lack of understanding. After the number of coronavirus cases in Spain has been rapidly reduced recently in the wake of sometimes very strict restrictions, many are afraid tourists from countries with significantly higher levels – and that includes Germany – could cause a new coronavirus wave.

Too well remembered are the images of the summer of 2020, when after months of lockdown with “house arrest” and border closures, tourism was allowed again and drunken vacationers from Germany and the UK partied wildly at Ballermann without following social distancing protocols, flirting with strangers at close range and hugging street vendors.

READ ALSO: ‘We’re very glad to be there’: German tourists fly to Mallorca in post-Covid pilot project

On the Balearic Islands themselves, scepticism has also mixed with joy. Yet the people on the Mediterranean islands know better than any other Spaniards that they cannot survive without tourists. 

The travel industry accounts for 35 percent of regional income here, compared with “only” 12 percent for Spain as a whole. In the wake of the pandemic and the restrictions on freedom of travel, unemployment and poverty grew dramatically on the Balearic Islands – more than anywhere else in Spain. 

The queues in front of the food banks are still getting a little longer every day.

Still, many here are against allowing tourism. “This is the best way to become a risk area again,” said well-known island cartoonist Pau to the Mallorca Zeitung. 

“For a season that is mediocre at best,” he said, travellers are putting “even more lives at risk.”

Musician Isis “Apache” Montero said: “As long as we residents are subject to restrictions during Easter week – only gatherings of no more than two households, closing of bars and restaurants at 5 p.m., curfew etc. – they should not let anyone in who does not have his primary residence in Mallorca.”

Speaking to the Deutsche Presse-Agentur, Joan Trian Riu, managing director of the major Majorcan hotel chain Riu Hotels & Resorts, appealed for common sense: “Tourists need to behave responsibly.”