Depite Orbcomm Stock Slide Vendors Confident of Satellite Work

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PARIS — OHB Technology Group remains confident that the satellite-messaging company Orbcomm, of which it is a part owner, will build a second-generation constellation of satellites with funds from its stock-market listing despite the poor performance of Orbcomm’s stock since its Nov. 3 entry onto the Nasdaq market.

Bremen, Germany-based OHB, which builds satellites and is a 70 percent owner of Ariane rocket-component manufacturer MT Aerospace, owns 8 percent of Ft. Lee, N.J.-based Orbcomm Inc. and 50 percent of Orbcomm Europe.

OHB has teamed with Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va., to bid on Orbcomm’s second-generation satellite constellation. A satellite using the platform likely to be proposed by OHB for the next Orbcomm fleet is expected to be launched in the first quarter of 2007 as a secondary payload aboard a Russian Cosmos rocket. OHB and Orbital Sciences are under contract with Orbcomm to build six satellites.

In a Nov. 14 conference call on the company’s third-quarter financial performance and in a Nov. 14 interview, OHB Technology Chief Executive Marco R. Fuchs said a recent Orbcomm order from GE Asset Intelligence LLC should give investors confidence in Orbcomm’s business prospects. The order was for 270,000 Orbcomm terminals through 2009, with options for an additional 142,000.

Orbcomm raised $101.2 million in a Nov. 3 initial stock listing. But the stock immediately fell below its $11 listing and has remained 30 percent below its initial price since then. The stock price since the IPO does not affect the amount of money Orbcomm raised and Fuchs said the stock’s fluctuation should not be read as a reflection of Orbcomm’s ability to fund the satellites. Instead, Fuchs said, Orbcomm’s stock might have suffered from a lack of a coordinated defense on the part of is investment-bank underwriters, creating conditions that made it easier for the stock to fall.

OHB’s Orbcomm business in Germany and Europe has been profitable for a couple of years, partly because the European operation does not carry the overhead charges associated with operating the constellation.

“We have more than 36,000 [Orbcomm] terminals working and the European operation does make money,” Fuchs said. Orbcomm Inc. is expected to select a prime contractor for its second-generation constellation in 2007.

OHB Technology reported that its revenues for the first nine months of 2006 totaled 129.9 million euros ($164 million), a 77 percent increase over a year earlier. The 2006 figures are inflated by the addition, since mid-2006, of the MT Aerospace business. Net profit, at 9 million euros, was up 1 percent from a year ago.

OHB and Apollo Capital Partners purchased MT Aerospace in June 2005 for about 120 million euros and Fuchs said the investment looks better with every passing quarter. MT Aerospace for the first nine months of 2006 accounted for 58 percent of OHB Technology’s total revenue.

MT Aerospace is the principal element in OHB’s Space Transportation and Aerospace Structures division, which reported pretax profit of 3.9 million euros on revenues of 75.9 million euros for the first nine months of 2006. The specific terms of the MT Aerospace sale, which were not publicized at the time, included a provision under which MT Aerospace’s former owners, MAN Group, would forgive a 7-million-euro loan made to OHB Technology a year after the deal’s conclusion. Fuchs said this loan was forgiven earlier this year and added 29 euro cents to OHB’s per-share earnings of 60 euro cents for the first nine months of 2006.

Fuchs said that if the Evry, France-based Arianespace launch consortium agrees to increase the production rate of the heavy-lift Ariane 5 rocket to seven to eight vehicles per year from the current level of five to six vehicles per year, MT Aerospace would need to invest in new plant and equipment whose total cost likely would be less than 10 million euros.

Arianespace Chief Executive Jean-Yves Le Gall said Nov. 14 that Arianespace, which has scheduled the year’s fifth and final Ariane 5 launch for Dec. 8, hopes to launch six or seven Ariane 5 rockets in 2007 and the same number in 2008. A decision on increasing the rate to as many as 7-8 vehicles per year over the longer term will be made in the coming months.

The first of five OHB-built SAR-Lupe German radar reconnaissance satellites is undergoing final testing at Ottobrunn, Germany-based IABG and is scheduled for shipment to the Plesetsk Cosmodrome launch site in northern Russia Dec. 2.

Fuchs said the SAR-Lupe launch aboard a Cosmos vehicle is tentatively scheduled for Dec. 19, assuming no hiccups during the final round of tests.