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Eutelsat rejects takeover bid from Altice owner

Eutelsat has turned down a takeover offer from French businessman Patrick Drahi, probably because his bid was not large enough to warrant further discussion.

The French satellite firm issued a short statement on Thursday confirming that the offer came in at €12.10 per share, and reiterating that the firm’s relevant governance bodies have rejected it unanimously.

It did not say why. However, an earlier statement from the company, in which it disclosed that it had received an unsolicited bid for its entire share capital, stated that the aforementioned governance bodies had “decided not to engage in discussions based on the terms of this proposal.” Obviously, the terms of the proposal could mean pretty much anything, but valuation is the most likely sticking point.

That was certainly Reuters’ opinion when it broke the news of Drahi’s overture. The newswire’s sources said talks were ongoing, but the offer the businessman had tabled was deemed too low.

The news had a positive impact on Eutelsat’s shares, which had been trading at around the €10 mark for much of September. Their value has since risen to almost the offer price.

Naturally, we don’t yet know whether Drahi will return with a revised offer. More to the point, its not wholly clear why Drahi wants into the satellite space at all.

Drahi is best known as the founder of expansionist cable group Altice – he took Altice Europe private last year – but he also has other business interests, including auction house Sotheby’s. While there is some potential crossover between Altice’s telecoms operations and Eutelsat’s connectivity and broadband services, the satellite firm is not an obvious fit for a telco.

It could simply be a business proposition; the ever-precarious satellite market is hotting up, so it could be that Drahi believes that Eutelsat is under-valued and is willing to take a punt on its future.

For its part, Eutelsat is also diversifying, having ploughed $550 million into OneWeb – the company racing with Elon Musk’s SpaceX to launch a sizeable LEO broadband fleet – earlier this year. It holds a 19.3% stake in OneWeb, or at least it will when fellow shareholder Bharti Airtel completes a planned $500 million call option.

Investing in OneWeb seems a logical move for Eutelsat, whose revenues and profits are on the slide. The company did not rule out a sale, but by the same token it did not share much information at all, other than to dismiss Drahi’s offer. Surely it has its price.

That said, there could be other factors at play that would put paid to any dealmaking.

In a separate piece Reuters quoted various analysts as highlighting the presence of the French government amongst Eutelsat’s shareholders, and the impact that could have. Public bank Banque publique d’investissement, or Bpifrance, holds close to 20% of the company.

In addition to satellites being regarded as a strategic national asset, a factor that could see the state block a sale, there is also the “sizeable tax break” Eutelsat received from the state two years ago, the newswire quoted an unnamed analyst as saying. A deal with Drahi would essentially see a businessman ultimately benefit from that tax break, which would not sit well with tax payers, the analyst pointed out. And that sounds like a highly fair point.

But it’s perhaps a moot point as at his juncture Eutelsat does not seem inclined to sell. Political issues may come into play should a higher offer hit the table though.


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