Mass toll-dodging has been partly blamed for a dent in the profits from the Greek road operations of the German construction group Hochtief AG.
A civil disobedience campaign in response to Greece’s economic crisis has sprung up in the country with some Greeks refusing to pay tolls on roads and transport tickets. Protesters have picketed toll booths and broken barriers at some of them.
Greek drivers appear not to have targeted Hochtief specifically but the protests come amid tensions between Germany and Greece over the euro zone debt crisis.
Hochtief said it has seen “persistent mass toll dodging” on two roads built in Greece. As a result the projects had “major shortfalls in income.”
Hochtief was one of several companies involved in Greek highway concessions that wrote a joint letter on Monday over the issue to Makis Voridis, the new transport minister in the coalition government, on his first day at work.
The companies, also including Vinci SA of France and Ferrovial SA of Spain, have so far invested about €3-billion ($4-billion U.S.) in upgrading roads. They have received only €800-million in tolls, which are administered by the government, which has cut the tolls in response to protests.
The consortia want to use the revenue stream from tolls as a guarantee for raising finance but the previous Greek government did not complete legal procedures for handing over toll collection to the consortia.
Hochtief, which was taken over last year by ACS Actividades de Construccion y Servicios SA, the rival Spanish engineering group, said it was reviewing the Greek projects, along with a contract for a road project in Chile, to see whether more risk provisioning may be required.
A further problem for Hochtief that is partly related to Greece is the likely postponement of the sale of its airports business, which holds stakes in six airports including Athens. A Greek privatization official told the Financial Times on Monday that the airport deal would definitely not go through this year.
Hochtief blamed global economic conditions for delays and conceded that the sale may now no longer happen this year, although Frank Stieler, chief executive, said bidders were showing “keen interest” in a business where sales and passenger numbers had grown this year.
A postponement of the sale until next year would cause Hochtief to post a net loss of about €100-million this year, the company said as it announced third-quarter results. Analysts had expected net profit at €338-million for the year, according to a Reuters poll.
Hochtief also scaled back its forecasts for 2012, giving up an ambition for €1-billion in pre-tax profit and saying only that this would be significantly higher than 2010’s €757-millionm.
ACS said its nine-month net profit, excluding exceptional items, fell by 34 per cent to €739-million.
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