Price of Spanish contractor falls 3% as Madrid stock market learns of acquisition.
Spanish investors have reacted badly to the decision by its leading contractor Ferrovial to buy UK support services group Amey for £81m. Ferrovial's share price fell nearly 3% on Madrid's stock market after the announcement.

After announcing the proposed deal last Wednesday, Ferrovial's share price fell to €25.46. The company opened on Wednesday at €26.19. Earlier this week, the price had not recovered, hovering around €25.8.

A Spanish analyst said that uncertainty over the stability of Amey made the market jumpy. He said: "Amey is a company in trouble. The initial reaction was negative. Also, the information on the deal has not really been that good."

Ferrovial said that the deal would benefit the company because it would give it a foothold in the international PFI market. The Spanish contractor first moved into PFI with a road contract in Ireland.

Chief financial officer Nicolás Villen said: "The PFI market in education and hospitals is definitely something we want to look at. This is a natural area for us to grow into."

A spokesperson for Ferrovial said the company intended to send over Spanish employees to learn about the PFI market from Amey's management. Tim Stone, PFI consultant at KPMG, said the purchase made sense.

He said: "Amey has got the skills. There is a whole raft of guys, such as John Stokoe, head of Amey defence, and Dougie Sutherland, head of Amey ventures, who are good."

Under the terms of the deal, to be ratified by shareholders by 16 May, Ferrovial will take on Amey's £190m debt. Michael Donnelly, an analyst at Bridgewell, said that Ferrovial's financial muscle would impress Amey's partners on major contracts. He said: "It is better to work with Amey now than a month ago."

A chief executive of a listed contractor said: "This is a deal for the long term for Ferrovial. It is taking on a large debt by keeping the group together, so it is prepared to take time to sort out the company."

The deal means that Amey is likely to be able to buy back its £60m stake in the London Underground public–private partnership. Tube Lines consortium partners Jarvis and Bechtel agreed to take over the financial burden temporarily when Amey was at the nadir of its financial problems late last year. Amey was set a deadline of 30 June to buy back the stake.

It is better to work with Amey now than it was a month ago

Analyst Michael Donnelly

Amey chief executive officer Mel Ewell said: "This is a significant opportunity for Amey and Ferrovial to work together to bring the London Underground deal to a conclusion."

Although most management at Amey will remain, the non-executive directors will step down. Chairman Sir Ian Robinson will leave after six months after helping with the handover. All 9000 Amey staff are expected to keep their jobs, and the firm will retain its name.

Ferrovial first approached Amey in November of last year but did not pursue a bid until January.

Leading shareholders Meditor and Sterling Investment have accepted the offer. The deal is not done and dusted, as Sterling has the option of accepting a higher offer if one is made by the end of next week.

Ferrovial: Facts and figures about a Spanish giant

Founded in 1952, Ferrovial was listed in the Building top 200 European contractors as the 20th biggest in the continent, with a turnover of £2.5bn for the year 2000-2001. The group, which employs 28,000 staff, was floated on the Spanish stock exchange in 1999. After an initial poor performance, the firm claimed last week it was Europe’s second largest construction firm by market capitalisation at £2.5bn, behind French company Vinci. Since 1999, the group has expanded internationally – it bought Polish contractor Budimex in 2000 and acquired a 50% stake in Bristol International Airport in 2001. Ferrovial has made its name in toll roads – it has 30 years of experience in the market after investing in the Bilbao–Behobia road in 1968. Last November a consortium headed by Ferrovial won a £300m concession to build, finance and operate the first toll road in Ireland – the N4/N6 Kinnegad–Kilcock motorway, which will link Dublin with the north-west of the country. Ferrovial’s operations stretch from Europe to North and South America to Australia, and range from straight construction – it built Frank Gehry’s landmark Guggenheim museum in Bilbao – to infrastructure, including roads and water work, airports, property and facilities management. The group has taken advantage of a construction boom in Spain – last year the market in Spain grew by 4.7%, double the growth rate of the country’s overall economy.