Ayala eyes stake in SLEx expansion

35.9-km tollway from Alabang to Batangas

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02:01 AM December 19th, 2011

By: Doris C. Dumlao, December 19th, 2011 02:01 AM

A flyover is seen at the South Luzon Expressway in Manila in this file photo taken November 18, 2010. The Ayala group has expressed interest to invest in the SLEx and is reportedly in talks on a potential investment in the concession running the 35.9-kilometer tollroad from Alabang to Sto. Tomas, Batangas. AFP PHOTO/NOEL CELIS

The Ayala group has expressed interest to invest in the South Luzon Expressway (SLEx) concession as part of its foray into the tollroad business, which is also seen adding value to its strategic property development projects.

Industry sources said the Ayala group was in talks on a potential investment in the concession running the 35.9-kilometer tollroad from Alabang to Sto. Tomas, Batangas. The expressway is a joint venture between Malaysian company MTD Capital Berhad and the state-owned Philippine National Construction Corp.

Asked about the conglomerate’s interest in SLEx, Ayala Corp. managing director Eric Francia said: “We’re always open to possibilities.”

The tollroad concession is owned by South Luzon Tollway Corp., which, in turn, is 80-percent owned by Malaysian company MTD Capital Berhad and 20 percent by PNCC.

The toll road is operated and maintained by SLTC’s unit, Manila Toll Expressway Systems Inc. (MATES).

Ayala, in partnership with Spanish engineering company Getinsa, won last week the bidding for the 4-km Daang Hari-SLEx link road, the first public-private partnership (PPP) project auctioned by the Aquino administration that is estimated to cost P2 billion.

Apart from complementing its property development projects south of Metro Manila, industry sources said Ayala’s interest in Daang Hari was in line with its interest to gain a foothold in the South Luzon road network.

Two other big tollroad operators, however, have also expressed interest in SLEx. These are Metro Pacific Tollways Corp. led by businessman Manuel V. Pangilinan and Star Tollway Corp.

As SLEx links the metropolitan areas of Makati and Manila and the suburban parts of Alabang in Muntinlupa to the southern provinces of Batangas and Laguna, it is seen as strategically complementary to the existing operations of either Metro Pacific and Star group.

Metro Pacific has an unsolicited proposal to build a P16-billion connector road linking SLEx to the North Luzon Expressway (NLEx), which is also under its auspices. Star Tollway, on the other hand, operates the 42-kilometer Southern Tagalog Arterial Road from Lipa to Batangas City. It is led by a Hong Kong-based consortium Cypress Tree Ltd.

While considering opportunities to buy into existing infrastructure projects, Ayala, for its part, is also willing to build new projects from scratch.

In a press briefing last week, Francia said: “We’re hoping to build a portfolio over time, specifically looking at greenfield opportunities. It’s always exciting to talk about M&A [merger and acquisition] but opportunities are limited in that space. But the greenfield opportunities are vast especially with what the government is pushing for. So we look forward to those other opportunities.”

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