February 6, 2019 / 7:37 AM / 3 months ago

UPDATE 2-France's Vinci confident on 2019, expresses interest in Toulouse airport

* Eyes further rise in 2019 net profit, revenue

* Traffic at Vinci Autoroutes down 8.9 pct in Q4

* Interested in Toulouse airport

* Vinci says it can grow with or without ADP (Adds CEO comments from news conference)

By Dominique Vidalon and Gilles Guillaume

PARIS, Feb 6 (Reuters) - Vinci struck a confident note over 2019 despite anti-government “yellow vests” protests in France that hit traffic on its motorways in the final quarter of 2018.

Europe’s biggest construction and concessions group predicted a further rise in net profit and revenue after posting 2018 earnings that met market forecasts.

The French group, which bought a majority stake in Britain’s Gatwick airport in December, also said it was interested in investing in Toulouse Blagnac airport, but “not at any price”.

Net income rose 8.6 percent to 2.983 billion euros ($3.40 billion) in 2018, while operating profit grew 8.5 percent to 4.997 billion. Revenues rose 8.1 percent to 43.519 billion. All those results were in line with forecasts.

Vinci raised its dividend to 2.67 euros from 2.45 in 2017, and its shares were flat in early session trading.

AIRPORTS EXPANSION

Vinci has been expanding into faster-growing and more profitable concessions such as airports and motorways, as well as in energy engineering.

The company, which already runs 45 airports in 12 countries, bought a majority stake in Britain’s Gatwick airport in December for 2.9 billion pounds. Gatwick will become part of the group in the second quarter of 2019.

Vinci also owns 8 percent of Paris airport operator ADP and has in the past voiced an interest in participating in any future privatisation of the group.

However, on Tuesday the French Senate rejected a proposal to privatise ADP.

“We will adjust, we will be present if ADP is privatised... but if it does not happen we will do something else. Vinci Airports will continue to expand,” Vinci chief executive Xavier Huillard told reporters. “There are many opportunities.”

He also confirmed Vinci’s interest in Toulouse Blagnac airport. Sources told Reuters last week that bids to buy the 49.99 percent stake held by Chinese consortium CASIL Europe in the airport were due on Feb. 6.

Passenger numbers across all airports managed by Vinci rose 6.8 percent to over 195 million in 2018, but motorway traffic declined 0.5 percent in 2018 and by 8.9 percent in the fourth quarter as result of the French “yellow vests” demonstrators.

The “yellow vests” — named after the fluorescent jackets French motorists must have in their cars — have blocked roads and roundabouts since the middle of November, sometimes occupying highway toll booths and setting a number on fire.

However, Vinci said there had been a clear improvement in motorway traffic in the first quarter 2019. For the whole of 2019, Vinci expected traffic levels on its highway network “to track the economic activity in France, barring any exceptional items”.

$1 = 0.8777 euros Reporting by Dominique Vidalon and Gilles Guillaume; Editing by Sudip Kar-Gupta and Jan Harvey

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