PARIS — Satellite-fleet operator SES Global reported increased revenues and profit and said it is taking advantage of lower satellite- manufacturing and insurance costs while benefiting from a firm transponder pricing market.
The Luxembourg-based company said its core business of selling satellite capacity through its SES Astra, SES Americom and SES New Skies divisions is as profitable as ever, with a gross profit margin of 80.5 percent for the three months ending March 31.
“It has been a long time, if ever, since we or anyone in the industry have seen these profit levels,” SES Global Chief Financial Officer Mark Rigolle said in May 2 conference calls with journalists and financial analysts.
The company continues to improve the gross margin in its services business, which includes selling ground equipment and wholesale marketing of satellite capacity. The margin for this business for the first three months of 2007 was 11.2 percent excluding one-time project start-up costs.
The two business together — satellite infrastructure and services — reported an EBITDA margin of 68.9 percent. EBITDA, or earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, is one key parameter investors use to measure performance.
SES Global’s satellites were 74 percent full as of March 31, unchanged from the end of 2006. The company operated 36 telecommunications satellites carrying a total of 1,028 transponders as of March 31. Its fleet capacity, measured in commercially available transponders, is scheduled to increase by more than 20 percent in the next three years as new satellites are launched.
Most of SES Global’s transponder sales are multi year contracts with broadcasters. SES Global Chief Executive Romain Bausch said the transponder sales conducted so far this year showed solid pricing. The SES Astra division notably booked a commitment from television broadcaster Canal Plus of France for long-term use of the Astra satellite system. Canal Plus, which currently leases 15 transponders, will lease an additional five transponders by late 2008, plus an undisclosed number after that.
SES Global reported a 21 percent increase in revenues for the first quarter of 2007, to 399.5 million euros ($543 million), compared to the same three-month period in 2006. After removing the effects of the purchase of the New Skies satellite fleet in 2006, and also the acquisition of services supplier ND Satcom during the year, the company’s recurring revenue was up 6.2 percent.
Rigolle said the company forecasts that its existing businesses can grow on average by 6 percent per year in the coming years, without taking into account any possible acquisitions.
Net profit, at 97.7 million euros, was down by 17 percent in part because of a 16 million-euro charge following the loss of the NSS-8 satellite in a January launch failure.
The recent slide in the U.S. dollar has had little effect on the company and even a further weakening of the U.S. currency will not be much of a drag on SES’s business even though it reports its results in euros.
Rigolle said that for every penny the dollar loses in value against the euro, SES Global’s annual revenues drop by 5 million euros . He said that translates into a 3.5 million-euro drop in annual EBITDA, a figure that reduces to a negligible amount by the time its effects are felt on the bottom line of net profit.
Because many of the company’s costs, including satellites, launch vehicles and the operating costs of the Americom subsidiary — and much of its current debt — are in dollars, SES Global is automatically hedged against steep dollar swings, he said.
SES Global earlier this year sold its minority interests in satellite operators AsiaSat of Hong Kong and Star One of Brazil, as well as one little-used satellite over the Pacific Ocean and a satellite-broadband service provider, to GE Capital in a transaction valued at 1.2 billion euros.
Bausch said the sale to GE Capital would have a positive effect on the company’s profitability starting in the second quarter. The more-immediate effect, he said, is to give SES Global a freer hand to act on commercial opportunities, especially in Asia and South America.