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UPDATE 1-Mexico's Alsea says it could spend up to $167 million in capex in 2021

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Daina Beth Solomon and Abraham Gonzalez
·2 min read
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(Adds details on capex plan; tax dispute)

By Daina Beth Solomon and Abraham Gonzalez

MEXICO CITY, Feb 26 (Reuters) - Mexican restaurant operator Alsea said on Friday it could pour up to 3.5 billion pesos ($167 million) into capital expenditures this year, which would be close to double last year's spending, as it aims to bounce back from pandemic shutdowns.

Alsea, which operates brands including Starbucks, Domino's and Burger King in Mexico, South America and Europe, said it would focus investment on maintaining existing stores and boosting deliveries.

"We have some restriction in our covenants from the banks, we have about 3.5 billion pesos maximum as of today to spend in capex," Chief Executive Alberto Torrado said in a call with analysts, adding the company hoped to open about 50 stores this year across the company's markets.

Alsea spent 1.8 billion pesos in capex last year, according to its earnings report on Thursday, in which it also reported a 64% drop in fourth-quarter revenue.

Still, the company posted a net profit, its first of the year amid coronavirus restrictions that forced restaurants to suspend service.

The company also said it had cut costs, including closing stores and reducing staffing.

"Today we have about 1,200 people less because of rotation in our company," an Alsea executive told analysts.

Alsea plans to invest 55 million pesos this year on digital initiatives aimed at increasing online orders, Torrado said.

Alsea also said it would soon resolve a dispute with the Mexican tax authorities over the company's 2014 acquisition of eatery chain Vips from Walmart de Mexico.

The Tax Administration Service (SAT) has notified Alsea that it owes 3.88 billion pesos over the transaction, the company said in its earnings report.

"We had a pretty good talk with the authorities, and we are in the process to close this," Financial Officer Rafael Contreras said, referring to a recent meeting.

Walmart de Mexico last year paid 8.08 billion pesos in back-taxes over the deal and other matters.

"The same way they made the auto-correction of their numbers, we're going to do the same thing," Contreras said.

($1 = 20.9590 Mexican pesos) (Reporting by Daina Beth Solomon and Abraham Gonzalez; Editing by Anthony Esposito and David Evans)