Atos announces the end of negotiations with Daniel Kretinsky – L’Express

Atos announces the end of negotiations with Daniel Kretinsky –

This is a key twist in this soap opera closely followed by the economic and political world. The French IT group Atos, plunged into a serious financial crisis, put an end to months of suspense this Wednesday, February 28, by announcing the end of negotiations begun with the company of Czech billionaire Daniel Kretinsky for the sale of its Tech Foundations branch.

In order to cope with its colossal debt – 3.65 billion euros of loans and bonds to be repaid or refinanced by the end of 2025 – the IT group had announced a plan to sell its activities into two entities. The objective: to maintain the dynamic activities around the cloud, big data and cybersecurity, grouped together in the Eviden pavilion, while selling the traditional activities of maintaining IT parks, under the Tech Foundations entity.

READ ALSO: Atos accelerates its dismantling: sale to Kretinsky, sale of BDS

And if Daniel Kretinsky had been the favorite for several months to acquire the latter, then about-face. Atos and EPEI, the Czech billionaire’s company, “have not reached a satisfactory mutual agreement,” the company said in a statement. Its director general Paul Saleh added that the breakdown of discussions was done by “mutual consent”. This abandonment will not result in compensation from either party, the group clarified.

A disrupted calendar

The timing of this renunciation may be surprising. Atos, closely scrutinized by investors and creditors, disrupted the calendar by delivering this announcement the day before the publication of its annual results. These were postponed until March 20, pending independent certification of the company’s accounts.

However, it is “not a huge surprise”, commented to AFP Lionel Melka, managing partner of the business consultancy company Swann Capital, while the abandonment of this sale project, made official in August 2023 , had been the subject of numerous rumors for several weeks. “This is perhaps not bad news,” adds Lionel Melka on the subject of the end of discussions with Daniel Kretinsky, “very badly viewed by many shareholders”.

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While waiting for March 20, the group announced this Wednesday that its turnover in 2023 amounted to nearly 10.7 billion euros, compared to 11.3 billion in 2022, and that its operating margin was 4 .4% for the financial year. However, Atos also clarified that its free cash flow for the second half “amounted to -109 million euros” and that its net financial debt was “2,230 million euros at the end of 2023 “.

Other possible asset sales

In any case, the end of these negotiations plunges the Atos group further into limbo. The restructuring project between Eviden and Tech Foundations is floundering, and its stock has been devalued by more than 70% since the start of the year. The company also renounced a capital increase of 700 million euros at the beginning of February.

READ ALSO: Atos: between Daniel Kretinsky and David Layani, time for big maneuvers

Tech Foundations remains for sale in any case, a source close to the matter told AFP. For the moment, no other buyer has officially made themselves known, the discussions held with Daniel Kretinsky being the subject of an exclusivity clause.

This abandonment could in any case trigger the start of other sale projects, crucial for Atos. In October, the group indicated that “if the operation with EPEI does not[avait] not take place, the group will have to [it] access capital markets (debt and equity) and/or consider the sale of additional assets, in order to ensure adequate liquidity to meet debt maturities in 2025”. The proposed sale of Big Data activities to Airbus & Security (BDS), unveiled at the beginning of January, is still in progress, the two parties having started a due diligence phase (consultation of the accounts, Editor’s note).

Projects monitored by Bercy

In order to refinance itself with its creditors, the group announced at the beginning of February the appointment of an ad hoc agent (Hélène Bourbouloux, who was notably responsible for the Casino and Orpea files). This was entrusted with the mission of negotiating with 22 banking establishments, under the watchful eye of Bercy. Atos in fact owns supercomputers, particularly used in the defense and nuclear sectors, which pose priority sovereignty issues for the French State.

READ ALSO: Atos, fragile pillar of the Olympic Games: “We can’t miss it”

Questioned in the Senate in mid-February, the new Secretary of State for Digital Affairs, Marina Ferrari, insisted on “the full and complete mobilization of all members of the government” on a “crucial” issue. A senatorial fact-finding mission has also taken up the subject and has already started with closed-door hearings. The current leaders, Jean-Pierre Mustier (president) and Paul Saleh (general director), will be heard in public on April 10. While Atos must notably ensure a very large part of the cybersecurity of the Olympic Games next summer, the vagueness surrounding the IT giant is still far from dissipating.