GE, Chinese-Owned Firm To Buy AsiaSat

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PARIS — GE Capital and the Chinese government-owned CITIC Group, which already owns a minority stake in satellite-fleet operator AsiaSat of Hong Kong, are proposing to purchase all of AsiaSat’s publicly traded shares once GE Capital and SES Global get another transaction approved by U.S. and Luxembourg regulators.

GE Capital and Beijing-based CITIC have told AsiaSat shareholders that they will continue running AsiaSat as it has been run, with no change in management or strategy, once AsiaSat is privatized following its departure from the New York Stock Exchange and the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.

The companies also said in a Feb. 13 document that they will not accept any competing offers for AsiaSat. Luxembourg-based SES Global and CITIC Group, which handles the Chinese government’s overseas investments, currently own a combined 68.9 percent of AsiaSat. In December, the two companies formed Bowendale Ltd. in the British Virgin Islands to prepare for the privatization.

Bowendale’s creation followed a November agreement between SES Global and GE Capital that called for GE Capital to sell its SES Global shares to SES Global in exchange for cash and assets including SES Global’s 34.1 percent stake in AsiaSat.

SES Global disclosed the proposed transaction with GE Capital Feb. 14. SES Global said the transaction should win regulatory approval within four months.

AsiaSat Chief Executive Peter Jackson said Feb. 15 that he understood SES Global’s decision to divest its AsiaSat ownership.

“They have been first-class partners with us, but we understand that their purchase of SES New Skies in March meant they now have 100 percent ownership of one of our competitors,” Jackson said in an interview. “They had to do something, and it’s logical that they would want to compete in the region with a 100 percent-owned asset, rather than with one in which they own 34 percent.”

On a parallel track, GE Capital and CITIC have been preparing a joint move to privatize AsiaSat by purchasing its shares, offering investors a 30 percent premium on the recent share price.

AsiaSat and stock exchange officials, concerned that word of the impending offer would leak out, suspended trading in AsiaSat Feb. 7.

Trading resumed Feb. 14, and AsiaSat’s New York-traded stock shot up by nearly 30 percent in early trading — a reflection of the price that CITIC and GE Capital have said they are willing to pay for the shares.

CITIC and GE Capital are proposing to purchase AsiaSat’s shares for 18.30 Hong Kong dollars ($2.34) apiece. For the American Depository Shares traded in New York, each of which represents 10 AsiaSat shares, the price would be equivalent to about $23.40.

CITIC and GE Capital, in a Feb. 13 document sent to AsiaSat shareholders, said they want to privatize AsiaSat to “relieve AsiaSat of the heavy financial and administrative burden” of stock-market listings in Hong Kong and New York.

Jackson said one motivation for wanting to quit the New York Stock Exchange listing is the Sarbanes-Oxley-404 regulations, which became effective in 2002 and set new requirements on company audits and financial reporting in general. Jackson said there are days when “I literally spend half my time on SOX-404 compliance.”

The companies say AsiaSat’s stock, which has declined 11.9 percent over the past three years while the Hang Seng Index has increased by 51 percent, is unlikely to increase in the near term because of the continued oversupply of satellite transponders in East Asia.

GE Capital spokesman Ned Reynolds said Feb. 15 that the company would have no comment on its strategy for AsiaSat.