UK-based satellite operator Inmarsat agrees $3.4bn takeover

Purchasing consortium sees considerable potential for the company's in-flight connectivity business in commercial aviation

FILE PHOTO: A technician looks at a solar panel on the Inmarsat S-Band/Hellas-Sat 3 satellite in the clean room facilities of the Thales Alenia Space plant in Cannes, France, February 3, 2017.   REUTERS/Eric Gaillard/File Photo
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A group of private equity companies and pension funds agreed to buy Inmarsat for $3.4 billion (Dh12.49bn), in a show of support behind the British satellite operator's growing in-flight broadband business.

Inmarsat shares were up 8.5 per cent at 549 pence at 9.47am London time, after the news was reported.

Talks began in late January as the company, based out of London, faces growing competition from traditional rivals such as ViaSat and new challengers including Richard Branson-backed OneWeb and Elon Musk’s SpaceX that offer smaller and cheaper satellites.

Consortium bid-vehicle Triton Bidco said the group believes that the satellite sector is attractive, according to Agence France-Presse.

"Triton Bidco believes that integrated satellite operators with scale like Inmarsat are well positioned as network provision becomes more complex."

The bidders – Apax Fund, Warburg Pincus Fund, Canada Pension Plan Investment Board and Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan Board – were drawn to the “considerable potential for in-flight connectivity and the internet of things”, they said.

Inmarsat is hoping to sell faster and more reliable internet services to the global airlines, Bloomberg reported. Better signal-receiving technology makes it a rapid growth area, and several competitors are vying for the prize.

The deal comprises $7.09 cash for each Inmarsat share, plus a previously announced final dividend for a total bid value of $7.21, or 546 pence, per share.

The price is slightly higher than an unsuccessful cash-and-equity approach last July from billionaire Charlie Ergen’s EchoStar. French rival Eutelsat Communications also weighed an offer before backing off. The new bidders made their offer via a joint-venture company owned in equal shares.

Echostar’s overture failed to win over Inmarsat’s board mainly because it was made up of a lot of B shares with reduced voting rights, Inmarsat’s chief executive Rupert Pearce said on Monday.

He said he did not expect regulators to throw up significant hurdles for the takeover, given the buyers’ experience with US national security regulators and commitment to keeping the company’s headquarters in the UK.

The bid is 46 per cent above Inmarsat’s stock price on January 30, the day before the non-binding proposal was made. Echostar or another investor could still weigh in with a rival offer under UK takeover rules.

The consortium’s offer already has the support of one top investor, Lansdowne Partners, which owns 11.4 per cent of the company, their statement said.

Lansdowne has held Inmarsat stock for at least a decade, so their endorsement is “a very encouraging sign that the offer is at the right kind of value for shareholders”, said Mr Pearce. Remaining investors will get a say on the deal at the company’s general meeting, which is not yet scheduled but is due before May 31.

Apax was part of a consortium of investors that bought Inmarsat in 2003 and took it public two years later, a history that helped Inmarsat’s board take this latest offer seriously, Mr Pearce added.

Inmarsat provides satellite services for high-speed transmission of data by telephone, email, video and the internet to government agencies and global corporations. The company rose to prominence in 2014 after its raw data was used in the unsuccessful search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370.