SES Will Not Meet 2010-2012 Growth Target of 4-5 Percent

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PARIS — Satellite launch delays and solar-circuit failures aboard fully booked satellites will make it impossible for satellite fleet operator SES to meet even its reduced three-year revenue growth target from 2010 through 2012, the company said.

Instead of the 4-5 percent growth rate previously promised — a forecast already reduced from 5 percent per year or more — the Luxembourg-based company said its average annual growth for the period will end up at 3.5 percent. For the coming three years, the picture looks better, with average revenue growth of 4.5 percent per year.

In a Feb. 17 conference call with analysts, SES Chief Executive Romain Bausch said revenue growth between 2012 and 2014 would be 7.5 percent per year were it not for the effect of the shutoff of analog television broadcasts in Germany.

Germany is one of the last European countries to move to completely digital transmissions, with a cutoff date of April 30.

Analog television can use one 36-megahertz satellite transponder per TV channel. Digital transmissions mean multiple channels can share the same transponder. For German television broadcasters, the digital transition is good news. From SES’s perspective, it means the end of one of the world’s most lucrative satellite transponder-lease arrangements.

The end of analog television transmissions in Germany will mean that, starting May 1, 29 satellite transponders now used by German analog broadcasters will be shut off. At the start of 2011, SES had 35 transponders occupied by German analog broadcasters. Three of these stopped analog broadcasts during 2011, with three more ending as of Dec. 31.

Total revenue from German analog leases in 2011 was 150 million euros ($200 million), SES said in a presentation during the call. This will fall to some 42 million euros in 2012, reflecting expected revenue before the April 30 cutoff.

Bausch said SES believes it will resell about 35 million euros of this newly available capacity in 2012, resulting in a net of 73 million euros in lost revenue in 2012 — “quite a dramatic impact on our revenues,” Bausch said. As more of these transponders are resold, the impact will diminish sharply. SES said that for 2012-2014, the revenue loss will average 40 million euros per year.

SES has several launches scheduled aboard the International Launch Services Proton rocket. The vehicle failed in August and more recently suffered delays related to different systems. The accumulated delays will reduce SES’s forecasted revenue as well, Bausch said.

The company also has 11 Lockheed Martin A2100 model satellites that are subject to sudden failures of their solar circuits. A failure of this type means a permanent loss of a portion of the satellite’s power, leading SES to shut down some transponders and forgo the revenue.

This has occurred on the SES AMC-15 and AMC-16 satellites serving North America and fully leased to EchoStar Corp. of Englewood, Colo. Any loss of capacity automatically results in reduced payments from EchoStar. SES estimated that EchoStar will be paying 5 million euros less than it would were AMC-15 in full working order. In January, a similar outage occurred on AMC-16 and will result in a similar loss of revenue starting in 2012, SES said.

Similarly, SES shut down 12 transponders of unleased — but marketable — C-band capacity on the AMC-6 satellite to devote the remaining power to customers using the satellite, the company said.

Beyond the launch delays and satellite in-orbit glitches, SES painted a picture of a company profiting from the continued worldwide growth in demand for satellite services. The company launched four satellites in 2011 and has seven more on order and scheduled for launch by 2014. When all seven are in service, they will represent a 19 percent increase in SES’s portfolio of commercial transponders.

Most of the new capacity will be focused on the emerging markets of Latin America, Africa and South and East Asia.

The launch of these seven satellites will bring to an end SES’s current large expansion program. The company’s capital investment totaled 835 million euros in 2011 and is expected to be 730 million euros in 2012 and 480 million euros in 2013 before falling to an annual level of 250 million euros.

Bausch said SES’s current Ku-band capacity available for India has been sold out, which is why the company is counting on the SES-8 satellite, set for launch in 2013, to capture India’s thirst for direct-broadcast television.

“The only weak market that we see is North America,” Bausch said. “And there we are trying to turn our weakness into strength.” To compensate for North America’s flat demand, SES is maneuvering its fleet there to cover the current business with fewer satellites.

As is the case with several other commercial satellite operators, SES does a substantial business with the U.S. and other governments, especially defense forces looking to supplement military satellite capacity over the Middle East. Bausch said government business represents between 12 and 15 percent of SES’s annual revenue, but only half of this is for military users.

As of Dec. 31, SES’s contract backlog stood at 7 billion euros, up 6 percent from a year ago. Its fleet, which increased in size during the year, was 81.2 percent full. Revenue for 2011 was flat at 1.73 billion euros, and EBITDA, or earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, was 73.5 percent of revenue.