By Costas Pitas
LONDON (Reuters) - Abertis, the world's largest toll road operator, is looking at investment opportunities in Britain, the United States and Australia to balance its exposure to Latin America, Chief Executive Francisco Reynes told Reuters on Friday.
Reynes also said the company's French arm would need a capital increase to help fund investments demanded by the government in return for an extension of toll road concessions.
Abertis restructured its business in 2012 and 2013 by reducing its exposure to home market Spain, suffering from a five-year economic slump, selling off stakes in several international airports and acquiring businesses in South America, where it operates toll roads in Chile and Brazil.
Reynes said in an interview that the aim for 2014 would be to diversify further and look not only to South America.
"We are targeting other markets where we could compensate this business risk profile with country risk profile," he said.
"The areas we are targeting are English speakers, like North America, the UK and Australia," he said, pointing to strong legal systems and an understanding of private-public contracts between business and the state.
Abertis is already among bidders for Australian state-owned toll road company Queensland Motorways Ltd worth $4.5 billion (2.6 billion pounds) according to analysts. Last year it won the contract to manage Europe's biggest toll concession, Britain's Dartford crossing.
The firm still has stakes in airports in Jamaica and Mexico, which it is aiming to sell, as well as telecoms infrastructure. But its primary focus is tolls, owning and running more than 7,000 kilometres of toll roads in over nine countries.
Reynes told Reuters its French unit Sanef would require a capital increase as it negotiated with the government, which is seeking a 700 million euro investment in return for extensions to its toll road concessions of between two and six years.
"The company will not be able to afford such an investment if it is not with a capital increase," Reynes said. "We think that Sanef will maybe require around 400 million euros of capital increase."
Reynes acknowledged that comments by the chairman of Abertis's 19-percent shareholder OHL on Thursday had led to speculation that Abertis would acquire a Mexican toll business from the company.
Juan Miguel Villar Mir said it would be "natural" for OHL to sell assets in the long term.
Abertis has previously acquired toll operations in Chile and Brazil from OHL, but Reynes said there were no immediate plans to do the same with regards to the Mexican business.
"It is neither natural, nor unnatural," Reynes said. "It is one option, like others. Abertis has not signed any agreement with any shareholder to acquire or be obliged to acquire any asset."
Abertis has reduced its Spanish business to account for less than 40 percent of its earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation, down from 55 percent in 2008.
Although 90 percent of its 4.65 billion euros in revenue comes from toll roads, the remainder is from telecommunications, where Reynes said the firm would seek to expand beyond Spain.
He said the firm, which provides telecom tower infrastructure, was willing to consider the first suitable investment opportunity in one of a handful of major European economies.
"We are targeting the largest countries in Europe .. like the UK, France, Germany and Italy," Reynes said.
(Reporting By Costas Pitas; Editing by Jose Elias Rodriguez and Tom Pfeiffer)