Abertis aims for the heavens
26 November 2007, Madrid - Abertis now has two feet in the sky. After buying 32 percent of French satellite operator Eutelsat in December 2006, the Spanish technology group has recently finalized a deal to acquire 28 percent of Spanish operator Hispasat from bank BBVA and phone operator Auna (now Orange), giving it a strategic position in the European satellite communications industry.
26 November 2007
Madrid - Abertis now has two feet in the sky. After buying 32 percent of French satellite operator Eutelsat in December 2006, the Spanish technology group has recently finalized a deal to acquire 28 percent of Spanish operator Hispasat from bank BBVA and phone operator Auna (now Orange), giving it a strategic position in the European satellite communications industry.
The purchase of the Hispasat stake, which is awaiting the approval of the government, will cost Abertis €199 million and will allow it to exert influence on the management of the operator, just as it has done with Eutelsat. However, Abertis bosses say there are no plans to try to merge the two operators into a single company.
Vowing to maintain Hispasat's independence has been one of the ways that Abertis has managed to overcome government reticence at the purchase given the strategic nature of the industry. The government maintains a presence in Hispasat via holding companies CDTI with a 1.85-percent stake, INTA with a 16.42-percent stake and SEPI with a 7.41-percent stake.
"There won't be any problems in the Cabinet approving the purchase of the stake by Abertis but it would be quite another thing if it went further and tried to control more than 50 percent," government sources say.
To do so, Abertis would have to acquire the stakes of telecoms group Telefónica and defense contractor EADS-Casa, which represent 13.23 percent and 5 percent of Hispasat's capital, respectively.
"It would be necessary to profoundly consider the implications that majority control of Hispasat by a private partner would have," the source notes.
Even the purchase of the 32-percent interest has raised eyebrows in some departments. While the Industry Ministry is thought to have welcomed the arrival of a technology partner that will help develop the company, the Defense Ministry has fretted about the security of Spain's military communications, which are handled by Hisdesat, a Hispasat unit.
Though Abertis Chairman Salvador Alemany would clearly be interested in expanding his stake in Hispasat, sources within the firm say that the board has come to the realization that it must influence the satellite operator more subtly given the government's opposition to losing control. At least until after the general election next March and possibly for long afterward, Hispasat's shareholder structure will not be open to debate.
"It's a political question," explains one source.
Even so, the entry of Abertis into Hispasat's board could lead to some shakeups and has raised questions over the future of the satellite operator's chairwoman, Petra Mateos.
"No one is questioning her work, but the desire of the main shareholder is to have as much influence as possible," the Abertis source says.
In spite of all its pushing for power, Abertis is likely to go along with the growth plan already being followed by Hispasat, which focuses on expanding services in Latin America and in the Spanish-speaking market in the United States. The military division will also receive attention, with a view to obtaining more contracts.
[Copyright EL PAÍS, SL./ CLAUDÍ PÉREZ / ARIADNA TRILLAS 2007]
Subject: Spanish news