After Record 2012, AsiaSat Tempers Expectations for 2013

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PARIS — Satellite fleet operator AsiaSat of Hong Kong reported March 14 record revenue for the fourth straight year in 2012 but warned investors that a major customer has negotiated substantially lower transponder lease rates starting in mid-2013 and that this year’s numbers will suffer as a result.

AsiaSat said that its current satellites are all operating at high occupancy levels, meaning it will be difficult to adjust for the lower prices on that particular contract until 2014, when two new spacecraft are scheduled for launch.

AsiaSat’s 2012 results also were inflated by a one-time revenue contribution from certain Indian customers in advance of a ruling by India’s Supreme Court on what portion of AsiaSat’s business in India should be taxable at what rates. Indian tax authorities in mid-2012 proposed a new regime that would boost levies on revenue from the sale of satellite bandwidth labeled as “Indian sourced,” which could affect AsiaSat.

The proposed new tax was made retroactive. AsiaSat continues to fight the new law and is now awaiting a decision by the Indian court. Other non-Indian satellite operators have also criticized the proposed new tax.

AsiaSat reported 2012 revenue of nearly 1.9 billion Hong Kong dollars ($243.2 million), up 10 percent from 2011. But some 311 million Hong Kong dollars of that came from Indian customers whose business with AsiaSat is the subject of the tax litigation.

Also swelling the figures in 2012 was AsiaSat’s sale, for 251.5 million Hong Kong dollars, of its SpeedCast broadband services provider. The company booked a gain of 119.2 million Hong Kong dollars on the sale. SpeedCast continues to use AsiaSat’s satellite capacity.

In a statement accompanying the financial results, AsiaSat Chairman Ju Wei Min said SpeedCast was sold only because it was deemed outside AsiaSat’s core business.

Ju said that while some government and corporate customers are showing some effects of a slowing economy in the Asia-Pacific, near-term trends look good, “especially in India” — despite the tax matter. “We continued to see strong pent-up demand for our services in markets throughout the region,” Ju said.

As of Dec. 31, AsiaSat had 105 36-megahertz-equivalent transponders under lease, for a 79 percent utilization rate, which is down from 82 percent a year earlier.

AsiaSat 7, which entered service in January 2012, is intended to replace the retiring AsiaSat 3S in 2014 at the 105.5 degrees east longitude orbital slot. The satellite was launched far enough in advance that the company is now looking for short-term customers to generate sales until AsiaSat 7 takes over from AsiaSat 3S. Ju said AsiaSat’s decision to launch AsiaSat 7 so far in advance of AsiaSat 3S’s retirement is an example of the company’s “commitment of not putting our customers’ businesses at risk.”

AsiaSat has two more satellites, AsiaSat 6 and AsiaSat 8, under construction, both by Space Systems/Loral of Palo Alto, Calif., and scheduled for launch in 2014. Once in orbit, the two spacecraft — with C-, Ku- and Ka-band capacity — will permit the company to expand into new markets.

Until then, the fill rate of the current satellites does not allow for much growth, which is why the renegotiated contract with “one of our long-standing customers” will put downward pressure on AsiaSat’s overall revenue in 2013, Ju said.

The new contract was concluded “at terms considerably lower than the previous contract due to the change in prevailing market rates,” Ju said. He did not say whether the same price pressure would apply to other large contracts coming up for renewal in the coming year.