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BAA considers China airport investments

/ Source: The Associated Press

The airport operator BAA PLC, which rejected a $15 billion takeover proposal earlier this month, said Tuesday it was considering investing in airports in China as passenger growth at its British facilities slows this year.

BAA said it expects passenger numbers at its seven airports in Britain to increase by 2 percent in the year ending March 31.

The group, which operates London's Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted airports, added that retail income from passengers was likely to rise 2 percent, but operating costs would climb 8 percent.

Chief Executive Mike Clasper said that the result was solid "given the impact of a softer U.K. economy and increased security requirements."

Clasper said BAA was looking at investing in secondary airports in China, but added that any investment would not be on the same scale as last year's 1.3 billion pound ($2.3 billion) acquisition of Budapest Airport.

"What we are looking at are the secondary airports, but given the way the Chinese economy is booming, the secondary airports are millions and millions of passengers," he said.

Clasper declined to comment further on the recent 8.75 billion pound ($15.35 billion) takeover proposal from Spanish infrastructure company Grupo Ferrovial SA. BAA said the offer of 810 pence ($14.20) per share did not reflect the true value of its assets.

Cheuvreux, a European analyst group, said it expects Ferrovial to launch a bid for BAA in the 850 pence to 900 pence ($14.85 to $15.73) range soon, adding that BAA "is a well-run asset, but we think that Ferrovial can run it even better."

BAA shares slipped 0.1 percent to 831 pence ($14.52) on Tuesday.

BAA said that it handled 145.1 million passengers at its airports — including Budapest — in the 11 months through February, a 3.1 percent increase on the previous year.

It said that the new Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport, now three quarters complete, is on budget and on schedule to open on March 30, 2008.