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Eutelsat in talks on possible all-share merger with OneWeb

Eutelsat in talks on possible all-share merger with OneWeb

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This slow shutter speed image shows a trail of a group of SpaceX's Starlink satellites passing over Uruguay as seen from the countryside some 185 km north of Montevideo near Capilla del Sauce, Florida Department, on February 7, 2021. - AFP

PARIS: French satellite company Eutelsat said it is in talks over a possible all-share merger with British rival OneWeb, which can help both companies challenge the likes of Elon Musk-owned SpaceX’s Starlink and Amazon.com’s Project Kuiper.

Eutelsat’s statement came after two sources close to the negotiations told Reuters at the weekend it was poised to buy OneWeb, which was valued at US$3.4bil (RM15.14bil) in its most recent funding round and in which Eutelsat already has a 23% stake.

“Following recent market rumours, Eutelsat Communications confirms that it has engaged in discussions with its co-shareholders in OneWeb regarding a potential all-share combination to create a global leader in connectivity,” Eutelsat said. OneWeb declined to comment.

Eutelsat shares fell 17% to €8.65 (RM39.46).

“Investors don’t appreciate the uncertainty, and if ETL (Eutelsat) is in a merger of equals with OneWeb, then ETL investors get a share in a new entity where the other half is pretty much an unknown to them. So I understand why ETL shares are down on the news,” said one trader in London.

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The talks are centred on a transaction that would result in Eutelsat and OneWeb shareholders each holding 50% of the new, combined entity. There were no assurances that the talks would result in any final agreement.

A deal would strengthen both companies in the race to build a constellation of low-orbit satellites. But a tie-up would be politically sensitive, as it would bring together Indian billionaire Sunil Bharti Mittal, along with France, China and Britain as shareholders of the combined group.

“From an anti-trust point of view, this deal is likely to be scrutinised heavily and will also likely need political consensus from both the United Kingdom and European Union at a time when the UK is choosing a new Prime Minister,” Credit Suisse said in a note. Eutelsat estimated the “satellite connectivity” market to be worth around US$16bil (RM71.26bil) by 2030.

Demand for satellite launches is expected to accelerate after recent sanctions have sidelined the Russian space launch industry, and giant satellite constellations could offer a new channel to beam broadband Internet from space.

Eutelsat’s biggest shareholder is France’s state-owned investment bank Bpifrance, with a 20% stake. Its fourth-largest shareholder is China’s sovereign fund China Investment Corp, according to Refinitiv data.

OneWeb was rescued from bankruptcy by the British government and India’s Bharti Global. A merger would leave the British government with a minority stake in the merged business, one source close to the matter said. — Reuters

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