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Buyout target Sydney Airport's H1 loss nearly doubles on low travel

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A quiet Sydney Airport is seen in the wake of a COVID-19 outbreak in Sydney
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By Jamie Freed

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Sydney Airport Holdings Pty Ltd on Friday reported its first-half loss nearly doubled in a tough period for travel demand, days after rejecting an improved A$22.8 billion ($16.3 billion) buyout offer from a consortium of infrastructure investors.

The A$97.4 million net loss at Australia's biggest airport operator for the six months ended June 30 compares with the A $53.6 million loss reported last year.

Earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation, a measure favoured by analysts covering the stock, fell by 30% to A$210.8 million in the first half, below the Visible Alpha consensus of A$228.6 million cited by broker Jefferies.

The company has said it may consider a higher buyout offer from the Sydney Aviation Alliance (SAA) consortium of IFM Investors, QSuper, Global Infrastructure Partners and AustralianSuper after rejecting an improved proposal of A$8.45 disclosed on Monday.

"The board is not philosophically opposed to a deal, but the first priority is to assess it on the basis of price," Sydney Airport CEO Geoff Culbert told analysts.

The airport did not pay an interim distribution.

Citi analysts expect distributions will be suspended until June 2022 due to a slow recovery from the pandemic, which has closed Australia's international border and led to domestic travel restrictions.

Sydney Airport's international traffic was down 91% in the first half from last year's levels, which had been less affected by the pandemic in the first quarter. Domestic traffic fell by 3.1% relative to 2020 but was down 57.5% on 2019 levels.

"The impact of COVID has been severe, but it will pass," Culbert said, noting international border controls could relax as early as December based on rising vaccination rates. "The underlying fundamentals of the business haven't changed."

SAA said Sydney Airport's results reinforced the long and challenging road ahead for the airport. "There was no new information to suggest the $8.45 per security cash offer is anything other than compelling," SAA said in a statement.

($1 = 1.3990 Australian dollars)

(Reporting by Jamie Freed; Editing by Chris Reese, Stephen Coates and Gerry Doyle)

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