Avanti Holds the Line on Africa Pricing

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Hylas 2. Credit: Orbital Sciences
Avanti said Hylas 2 (above) was the main reason the company’s revenue doubled, to $65.6 million, from 2013 for the 12 months ending June 30. Credit: Orbital Sciences

PARIS — Satellite fleet operator Avanti Communications Group on Sept. 15 said it is resisting pricing pressure in Africa and maintaining average prices above $864,000 per year for a 36-megahertz transponder.

London-based Avanti, which has two telecommunications satellites in orbit plus its recently purchased Artemis data-relay spacecraft, expects to round out its fleet in 2017 with the launch of its own Hylas 3 payload on a satellite built for the European Space agency and a fourth dedicated satellite, Hylas 4, recently contracted with Orbital Sciences of Dulles, Virginia.

In an annual report to London’s AIM stock market, Avanti said current customer take-up of its existing capacity and interest in the coming satellites suggest that “there is a realistic probability that existing capacities will be substantially full” sometime in 2017.

Avanti’s first satellite, Hylas 1, was launched in late 2010 to provide consumer and enterprise Ka-band broadband services in Europe. Hylas 2, launched in August 2012, covers the Middle East and Africa. Hylas 3, which is a hosted payload riding on a data-relay satellite being built for ESA and its industrial partner, Airbus Defence and Space, is scheduled for launch in the first half of 2017 for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Hylas 4, also scheduled to launch in 2017, is devoted to Africa.

Satellite operators in Africa are reporting price declines of 10-20 percent in the past year, but Avanti said it has been able to hold the line, maintaining an average price point above the $2,000 per megahertz per month — or $864,000 per year for a 36-megahertz transponder equivalent — that it set in 2008.

With Hylas 2 entering service in the fall of 2012, 2013 was the first full year of its commercial service. Avanti said Hylas 2 was the main reason the company’s revenue doubled, to $65.6 million, from 2013 for the 12 months ending June 30.

Avanti reported an operating loss of $48.7 million for the year, compared with a loss of $52.8 million in 2013. EBITDA, or earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, was $1.7 million, the first year of positive EBITDA.

Company backlog was down 3 percent, to $430 million as of June 30. Available cash was $195.3 million. Gross debt was $517 million. Avanti said it has made provisions for several contracts from customers whose business has been “disrupted by civil unrest.” Despite that, the company said the average credit quality of its customer set has improved since early 2013.

Revenue for the first three months of fiscal year 2015 — July through September 2014 — will total around $26 million, Avanti said, flat compared with 2014, but new contracts should drive growth later in the year.

Avanti used a June bond issue to finance the first tranche of Hylas 4 financing, avoiding the use of equity that might have been necessary if it had sought support from the U.S. or French export-credit agencies, both of which Avanti has used in the past.

The company said it has reached agreement with its suppliers — Orbital for the satellite’s construction and Europe’s Arianespace for the launch — on a limit of liability that will enable Avanti to suspend payments beyond $81 million if the capital markets are not favorable in late 2015. “We could pause the project for as long as necessary” to wait for improved financing conditions, the company said.

Avanti’s September 2013 high-yield-bond offer raised $370 million, which the company used in part to pay off its Hylas 2 debt to the two export-credit agencies, the U.S. Export-Import Bank and Coface of France, that provided loans and guarantees for the project.

“Whilst this debt was useful, it was overly restrictive in terms of the group’s growth aspirations,” Avanti said in explaining why its $370 million bond raise, which matures in September 2019 and pays a 10 percent annual interest, was a preferred financing mechanism.

Avanti’s purchase of the Artemis data-relay satellite from the 20-nation ESA was a first in the agency’s history. Avanti has never detailed how it plans to use Artemis. In its stock market filing, it said the satellite’s main function is “to communicate with other spacecraft in orbit.”

“Artemis revenues are by their nature derived from short-term projects and are unpredictable, but we expect the satellite to yield a good return,” Avanti said.