(Adds quotes on debt, 2015 sales plans)
MEXICO CITY, July 10 (Reuters) - Mexican construction firm ICA expects to sell assets next year for 5 billion pesos ($317.99 million) as part of an effort to reduce its heavy debt load, Chief Executive Officer Alonso Quintana said in an interview.
Quintana also said late on Thursday that the company aims to lower its ratio of net debt to earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) to 6 this year from around 7 currently.
ICA’s share price has fallen around 33 percent this year, in part because the company is highly indebted compared to its competitors, analysts say.
“I‘m not defending having so much debt. I agree it’s not healthy, but you have to think about how we entered into the company’s most important stage of investment,” Quintana said. “The debt levels are backed by very significant assets.”
At the end of March, ICA’s net debt was 48.9 billion pesos.
Quintana also said he expects to sell the remaining 2 billion pesos worth of assets included in a previously announced 5 billion package in the second half of the year.
The first part of the package involved an agreement by Canada’s No. 2 pension fund, the Caisse de Dépot et Placement du Québec, to pay ICA over 3 billion pesos for a 49 percent stake in a platform for Mexican transportation projects.
Quintana was optimistic about the prospects for a controversial aqueduct project awarded to a consortium including ICA in Nuevo Leon, which the northern state’s governor-elect has promised to cancel.
The consortium includes Grupo Higa, a government contractor ensnared in a conflict of interest scandal over homes it sold to President Enrique Pena Nieto’s wife and his finance minister.
Critics also say the project, which will deliver water to the Nuevo Leon capital, Monterrey at a cost of up to 62 billion pesos including construction and services, is too expensive.
“You could argue the need isn’t so immediate, but it’s a fact that those six cubic meters per second (of projected water from the aqueduct) will do a lot of good for Monterrey,” Quintana said.
The ICA CEO said he hopes to smooth things over with the incoming Nuevo Leon administration and begin construction of the project in January, 2016.
$1 = 15.7240 Mexican pesos Reporting by Noe Torres and Roberto Aguilar; Writing by Alexandra Alper; Editing by Christian Plumb