Woes at Home Drive More Spanish Contractors Abroad
South America has become a key growth market. COMSA EMTE is expanding its work in Brazil, Chile and Mexico. FCC has won projects in Panama, Costa Rica, and Colombia, while ACS is growing its presence in Mexico and Central America, Chile, Argentina, and Brazil. Sacyr Vallehermoso has projects in Chile and Brazil as well, including a multi-billion Panama Canal job; and Acciona recently landed a $538-million port project in Brazil. The Spanish firms are frequently bidding against each other in Latin America, while sometimes working together in North America.
In December, a partnership of Acciona and ACS won a $1.65-billion concession for a ring road around Montreal, while OHL is on a $2.1-billion hospital project in the city.
Ferrovial landed two $1.4-billion road projects in the U.S. in 2012 and is bidding on a railway job in California, where FCC got a $650-million bridge project. In March last year, FCC had $9 billion worth of bids in the U.S. ACS is working on a solar plant in Nevada, a tunnel in Alaska and the New York City subway.
OHL is making inroads, quite literally, into Asia, with a stake in the first underwater rail link under the Bosphorus Strait in Turkey. It is on a railway job in Russia’s Ural Mountains, and on a high-speed rail job between Mecca and Medina. COMSA EMTE is working on the expansion of the Ankara metro in Turkey.
In Australia, Acciona is the lead on a $1.3-billion tunnel project in Brisbane, while ACS is on $1.9-billion hospital job in Adelaide.
Acciona is constructing a 160-mW concentrating solar power plant in Ouarzazate, Morocco. The company has built 250 mW of solar thermal power plants in Spain, and Spanish companies are picking up renewable energy projects in the U.S. as well–but Acciona’s Mochales says it’s not only the R&D capacity of the firm that wins bids.
“We went abroad 50 to 60 years ago,” he says. “Out of those Spanish companies that went abroad in the last three or four years, without having been abroad before, almost all of them are failing in getting new business.”
Meanwhile, in a Jan. 30 report,"> El País, Spain's highest-circulation daily newspaper in Spain, claims that top executives at Sacyr Vallehermoso, OHL and FCC have allegedly made hundreds of thousands of euros in contributions to Partido Popular through a secret Swiss bank account.
The contributions, dating back to 1997, which marked the start of Spain's construction boom, are thought to have won the firms billions of euros worth of concessions from the ruling party, according to the newspaper.
Spain's anti-corruption prosecutor questioned former the country's former treasurer for three hours on Feb. 6 based on the El Pais report, and is deciding whether to question Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and/or to conduct a formal investigation.
Rajoy has said the allegations are "completely false." He has issued tax returns for the last 10 years.
A spokesman for OHL has "categorically denied" that [Chairman] Juan Miguel Villar Mir had made contributions to Partido Popular. He adds that the El Pais report did not name OHL as one of the companies involved in the corruption allegations.
Regina López Tudanca, a spokeswoman for Sacyr Vallehermoso says in an email statement, that Luis del Rivero, an executive cited by El País, "left the company 15 months ago; however, he has denied the information to the newspaper."
FCC "denies having made the contributions contained in the notebooks...that have been published by the newspaper El País," says spokesman Plácido Álvarez Holgado. "FCC has conducted an internal review into its accounting, which determines the falsehood of these payments attributed to the president of the construction subsidiary."