BT unloads last satellite stake for £363m



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BT Group disposed yesterday of its last remaining stake in a satellite company when it sold its 15.8% holding in the Paris-based Eutelsat for £363m.

The deal takes BT's proceeds from selling its stakes in satellite companies over the past year to about $1bn (£530m). The earlier disposals were holdings in Intelsat, Inmarsat and New Skies Satellites.

A BT spokesman said yesterday that the sale of the satellite holdings was part of the group's long-term plan of disposing of what it regarded as non-core holdings, which has helped cut the group's debt burden from a peak of almost £28bn to about £8bn.

The Eutelsat investment has a book value of £118m, giving BT a profit of £245m. The company said it would not face a heavy tax charge on the profit. BT was a founder shareholder in the satellite company and its investment predates its privatisation 20 years ago.

It is understood that its selling price was significantly higher than those achieved by Telecom Italia, France Telecom and Deutsche Telekom when they sold their stakes.

Hannes Wittig, an analyst at Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein said the selling price was about £100m higher than expected. "The significance of this is that it brings BT about half a year closer to achieving the £7bn debt-reduction target, which may allow it to ramp up [dividends] or buybacks sooner, but BT may use the money to buy Italian operator Albacom instead."

Eutelsat has a network of 24 satellites covering Europe, Asia and the Americas, and offering television, radio and telecommunications services. BT said it would maintain operational links with the owner.

While Europe's big telecoms groups have been selling their satellite stakes, private equity firms have moved in. Apax Partners, Permira, Madison Dearborn and Apollo Management paid $3.1bn for Intelsat in August. Kohlberg Kravis Roberts bought a controlling stake in PanAmSat in April.

Source: Guardian