(Recasts; adds comment from CEO, analyst)
By Rodrigo Campos and Luc Cohen
NEW YORK/BUENOS AIRES Feb 1 (Reuters) - Shares of Corporacion America Airports struggled to get airborne on their market debut on the New York Stock Exchange on Thursday after the Argentine airport operator priced its initial public offering at the lower end of an already reduced range.
Shares opened at $17, the same as overnight pricing, after the company revised the expected price range to $17-$19 from a prior $19-$23. The share price then ranged between $16.50 and $17.99. By 3.22 p.m. (2022 GMT) they were trading at $16.55, down 2.6 percent from the Wednesday pricing.
Rising U.S. interest rates and declining appetite for Argentine risk after the country’s risk measure rose in recent weeks were partly to blame for the weak reception, analysts said.
“It was not the best timing,” said Alejandro Bianchi, investment manager at InvertirOnline in Buenos Aires. “In the past few days, rates rose and the market became more volatile.”
The company, founded by Argentine billionaire Eduardo Eurnekian, said it was looking at the longer term.
“For us making our company public was not about a specific price because in the end as we have seen it is set by the market and not by ourselves,” said Martin Eurnekian, the company’s chief executive and Eduardo’s nephew.
“But the decision was to take this step to give the company tools to keep growing.”
Corporacion America, which reported $1.2 billion in revenue for the first nine months of 2017, operates the majority of Argentina’s airports, including capital Buenos Aires’ main international airport Ezeiza. It also has others in Latin America, Armenia and Italy.
A key concession agreement that includes the operation of Ezeiza expires in 2028.
The company sold over 11.9 million shares, while a shareholder unloaded 16.7 million to raise a total of over $485 million.
Corporacion America Airports plans to use part of the proceeds to pay off some $54 million in debt, according to a regulatory filing.
The IPO is part of a wave of Argentine companies looking to list overseas to take advantage of increasing investor interest in the country, whose benchmark stock index rose 78 percent in 2017 after a near 45 percent gain in 2016.
Buenos Aires-based power generator Central Puerto SA is expected to raise nearly $800 million in an offering of American depositary shares, expected to price later on Thursday. Its Argentine stock closed down 2.9 percent.
Oppenheimer & Co, BofA Merrill Lynch, Citigroup and Goldman Sachs acted as joint bookrunners on the airport IPO, while Santander was co-manager. (Reporting by Rodrigo Campos and Luc Cohen; editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Rosalba O‘Brien)