Private Investor: BAA doubles my money but lets me down

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True, the price in the end was improved, but it scarcely matched what BAA's board told us again and again was a fair price to pay for Britain's leading airports - and that's without any premium for control of the company.

What's really annoying, though, isn't so much the feeble attitude of BAA, which is a bit like that of the cowardly lion in The Wizard of Oz, but the view taken by my fellow shareholders.

Am I the only investor in BAA who was happy to look to the long-term prospects of the company? I feel as though I must be.

I bought the shares five or six years ago for about 450p, so I'll have more than doubled my money when the 950p a share offer comes through (although it's effectively 935p if you take the already declared 15p a share dividend).

Even after 9/11 and other crises in the travel industry over the years, I stuck in there and held the shares, taking my dividends as scrip shares when the opportunity arose. I do not feel as though my faith in BAA has been very well rewarded.

Maybe that's a little over emotional. I suppose what I mean - and I am aware that this has been pointed out before - is that I'm disappointed that Ferrovial and rival bidder Goldman Sachs could see the potential value in BAA's business, whereas its current managers and shareholders (apart from a few souls like myself) could not.

So what will happen? I'll get a nice big cheque from Ferrovial and I can wave goodbye to my shares as they head through the departure gate on their way to Madrid. Then there'll be a continuing series of rumours about the way that Ferrovial is running the business, including tussles with the regulator. The debt burden might be unmanageable. The group will probably be broken up a bit, with BAA's shrewd move into places such as Budapest airport dumped and the competition authorities forcing it to flog maybe Gatwick, no doubt to another private equity group such as Goldman Sachs.

A few years down the line the whole thing will be disposed of at a huge profit to Ferrovial, the debt repaid, the assets sweated, the facilities at Heathrow even more miserable than they are now, with some very happy Ferrovial folk smiling all the way to the bank.

One way to get my assets back would be to buy shares in Ferrovial. Yet one has to be very clear about what one is getting into there - a construction group with a very highly geared airports group tagged onto it. It is not as appetising as the pure BAA package.

And consider also for a moment what might happen if a bunch of British investors or Americans or Japanese or Australians or anyone expressed an interest in purchasing a minor Spanish airport, let alone all the main ones. You have only to think of the idea to dismiss it as an absurdity.

Gordon Brown blathers on about the dangers of what is politely termed "economic patriotism" while control and ownership of yet another strategic national asset take off in completely one-way traffic. As I say, it might be all right if there were some reciprocity in these arrangements, but there plainly is not. Indeed, BAA was about he only publicly quoted airport group of any stature in the world. Now it is gone.

My last thought is simply to wonder about what the average investor is to do when all the best investments are being snapped up by private equity. It is an easy way for the already very rich to get richer still; the rest of us aren't invited to the party, I fear.

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