Drahi drags satellite tv for pc M&A into near-earth orbit


LONDON, Oct 4 (Reuters Breakingviews) – Patrick Drahi’s subsequent large deal may very well be out of this world, actually. France’s Eutelsat Communications (ETL.PA) final week rejected a 2.8 billion euro bid from the telecom tycoon. The prospect of a profitable merger with 3 billion euro rival SES could tempt the Altice proprietor to strive a relaunch.

Eutelsat and SES share an issue. Their satellites are 35,000 kilometres from earth, the perfect distance for beaming tv alerts. But TV is in decline. And the huge distance makes their satellites ill-suited to the faster-growing broadband enterprise. Online actions like gaming require near-instantaneous response instances; even mild takes half a second to make the spherical journey from one participant to a different and again by way of one among their satellites. That’s why billionaires like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos need to construct broadband “constellations” a lot nearer to the earth.

So why is Drahi all in favour of Eutelsat? One draw is a share value languishing 30% beneath its January 2020 degree, although the pandemic barely dented its enterprise. In that context, the 17% premium supplied by Drahi, who has a eager eye for a cut price, could seem miserly. Eutelsat shares are buying and selling above the rejected 12.1 euro per share provide, suggesting buyers anticipate him to return.

Their pondering is sound. Eutelsat’s standalone prospects could also be gloomy. But Drahi might wring out juicy value financial savings by merging the enterprise with SES . And the truth that the U.S. authorities is making chunky funds to each companies as compensation for reallocating a few of their broadcast spectrum affords the prospect for some textbook Drahi monetary engineering.

Factoring in each firms’ U.S. refunds, the mixed enterprise would have 2.2 billion euros of web debt, roughly the identical as their estimated 2021 EBITDA. If Drahi cranked up leverage to 2.5 instances EBITDA, nonetheless beneath Eutelsat’s 3 instances ratio, he might increase about 3 billion euros. That’s sufficient to fund a good acquisition premium and in addition pay himself a hefty dividend. Drahi has adopted an analogous playbook of debt-funded distributions at artwork home Sotheby’s, which he purchased in 2019.

Even for anyone of Drahi’s means, the preliminary outlay could be sizeable. And he’d danger being caught with a shrinking, extremely levered enterprise as borrowing prices go up. Still, the prospect to take some chips shortly off the desk means it’s hardly a moonshot.

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– Shares in Eutelsat Communications jumped 16% on Sept. 30 after the French satellite tv for pc operator rejected a bid from billionaire telecoms investor Patrick Drahi.

– The unsolicited method, first reported by Reuters late on Sept. 29, was priced at 12.1 euros per share, Eutelsat mentioned. A spokesman for Drahi declined to remark.

– Eutelsat shares have been buying and selling at 12.28 euros at 0830 GMT on Oct. 4.

Editing by Liam Proud and Karen Kwok

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Patrick Drahi, Franco-Israeli businessman and founder of cable and mobile telecoms company Altice Group attends the inauguration of the Altice Campus in Paris, France, October 9, 2018.