(Adds quote, share price and missed payment)
By Tomás Sarmiento and Alexandra Alper
MEXICO CITY, Dec 3 (Reuters) - The Mexican government is working to speed up work-related payments to embattled construction firm ICA, whose shares have fallen sharply this week as it appears headed toward a default on some of its hefty debt load.
Deputy Infrastructure Minister Raul Murrieta told Reuters on Thursday the government was processing settlement payments for road construction projects as quickly as possible and that a government bailout was currently not on the table.
Buffeted by a weak peso and slow government infrastructure spending, ICA said on Monday it would take a 30-day grace period on some bonds after failing to pay a $31 million coupon, prompting S&P and Moody’s to cut its rating.
That has stoked fears the company will default on those bonds.
“What we can do and what we are working on doing is accelerating the settlements so that the company can collect that money on time,” Murrieta said in a telephone interview.
A source familiar with the matter said the Mexican government, which has cut back its own spending in recent months as weak oil prices hit public revenues, owed the company about 20 billion pesos ($1.2 billion).
Murrieta said he did not expect the company’s woes to affect the three highway projects it is carrying out for the government, at least in the short term.
Shares in ICA, which had declined more than 40 percent earlier in the week, gained 6.52 percent to 3.43 pesos in early afternoon trading.
More than half of ICA’s debt, which is about nine times earnings before interest tax depreciation and amortization (EBITDA), is in dollars, while it earns the vast majority of its revenue in pesos.
The Mexican peso has slumped more than 13 percent against the dollar this year.
In October, ICA hired restructuring specialist Rothschild as a financial adviser to “explore ways to improve liquidity and reduce leverage.” It said at the time it had no intention of suspending payments or declaring bankruptcy.
Chief Executive Alonso Quintana said in July the company would sell 5 billion pesos of assets in 2016, as it did in 2015. He later said ICA did not plan to dispose of its stake in airport operator OMA, one of its most valuable assets. ($1 = 16.7261 Mexican pesos) (Additional reporting by Roberto Aguilar; Editing by Simon Gardner and Peter Cooney)