GE Capital Corp. Reducing Stake in SES Global

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  Space News Business

GE Capital Corp. Reducing Stake in SES Global

By PETER B. de SELDING
Space News Staff Writer
posted: 27 March 2006
01:19 pm ET


GE Capital Corp., the largest single shareholder of SES Global, is reducing its ownership in the satellite-fleet operator and has opened discussions with SES Global management on the sale of its entire stake in the company, Luxembourg-based SES Global announced.

SES Global also announced that it is increasing its current capital expenditures by $210 million between 2006 and 2008 to pay for the Ciel-2 satellite the company recently ordered on behalf of Ciel Satellite LP of Canada. SES Global owns 49 percent of Ciel and has received a $100 million down payment from the Ottawa-based start-up company for work on the Ciel-2 spacecraft.

Ciel plans to offer television services to Canadian customers, with U.S. direct-broadcast satellite company EchoStar Communications Corp. agreeing to purchase whatever capacity on Ciel-2 is remaining.

SES Global also disclosed that it has a 69-percent ownership stake in Mexican start-up operator QuetzSat, which has business plans identical to Ciel’s, including the EchoStar connection, but through a Mexican orbital slot. QuetzSat has not yet ordered its satellite.

The gradual exit of GE Capital from SES Global’s ownership comes five years after GE Capital sold GE Americom, a satellite-fleet operator based in Princeton, N.J., to SES of Luxembourg. It was the first major consolidation move among the fixed satellite services operators, with the added feature of being a trans-Atlantic deal that transformed then SES Astra into the world’s largest commercial satellite-fleet operator.

The financial-services arm of General Electric has given notice that it will sell an initial tranche of 35 million Class C SES Global shares. SES Global will immediately purchase 7 million of these shares, and also will purchase 3.5 million shares now held by the Luxembourg government and Luxembourg banks so as to maintain the current weighting of the company’s different classes of shares.

Once the sale is complete, SES’s public float — the amount of the company’s stock available for public trading — will increase to 53 percent from 47 percent now.

GE Capital’s ownership will drop from 24 percent to 19 percent, and its voting rights in the company will be reduced to 15 percent from today’s 19 percent.

In a March 21 statement that, because of stock-market regulations, was not distributed in the United States, Canada or Japan, SES Global said it had begun talks with GE Capital on an orderly disposal of part or all of its remaining SES Global stock.

“GE Capital is currently contemplating a variety of possible transactions relating to the disposition of all or part of its remaining shareholding in SES Global,” according to the SES statement. “Such transactions may involve SES Global and preliminary discussions are taking place between SES Global and GE Capital.”

Traded on the Paris-based Euronext stock exchange, SES Global’s stock has been under pressure since the Feb. 20 presentation of its 2005 financial results. SES Global managers told investors that its 2006 pretax profit margin will be reduced because of the delay in the launch of two satellites.

Margins also will be reduced because the company’s other business divisions are increasing as a percentage of SES Global’s total portfolio.

These businesses have lower margins than SES Global’s core business of leasing satellite capacity.

The announcement of the GE Capital decision also weighed on SES Global’s stock.

GE Capital is considered an “insider” among SES Global’s owners, and it has a seat on the board of directors. As such, GE Capital would have been unable to sell its shares before SES Global’s announcement of its 2005 financial results if it had decided to make the move before closing its first-quarter financial accounts.

SES spokesman Jean-Paul Hoffmann said GE Capital “has always been clear that it is not in this to be a minority shareholder. What we are doing now with GE is analyzing how to manage this transition in a way that is the least disruptive to our shareholders.”

Comments: pdeselding@compuserve.com