By Michal Aleksandrowicz and Dagmarah Mackos
(Reuters) -Planemaker Airbus has made a non-binding offer of 1.5-1.8 billion euros ($1.6-$2.0 billion) for Atos’s prized cybersecurity unit BDS, the French IT group said on Wednesday, as it battles to strengthen its finances.
The potential deal, the first significant move from new Atos Chair Jean-Pierre Mustier after he took over in October, is a key part of an asset sale plan aimed at reviving the group’s fortunes after a mix of setbacks and governance crises.
However, Atos also said talks to sell its loss-making Tech Foundations arm were taking longer than planned and that it did not rule out using “legal protection mechanisms” to frame talks with creditors if discussions with banks did not make progress.
Atos’ shares were down 4.8% at 1230 GMT, after briefly rising more than 10% in early trade.
Atos said it would open due diligence talks with Airbus. The world’s biggest planemaker had previously sought to take a stake in Atos’s Evidian division, which includes BDS and is now called Eviden, but dropped that plan after opposition from some of its own shareholders.
“The acquisition of BDS could significantly accelerate the digital transformation of Airbus, enhance the company’s defence and security portfolio with strong capabilities in cyber, advanced computing and artificial intelligence,” Airbus said in a statement.
Atos – whose problems included a badly-received takeover plan for U.S. rival DXC in 2021, accounting issues at U.S. entities that were later resolved, and burning through three CEOs in less than two years – said an unidentified third party had also expressed non-binding interest in buying part of BDS.
The Financial Times cited an unidentified source as saying French electronics maker Thales had been weighing its options in recent weeks.
Thales, which early last year said it would not take a stake in Eviden, told Reuters via email it had “no intention of diversifying into markets other than those it already serves”.
Atos’ top shareholder Onepoint declined to comment.
Atos had expected to complete talks to sell its Tech Foundations arm to Czech billionaire Daniel Kretinsky’s EPEI in the final quarter of 2023 or the first quarter of 2024, but said on Wednesday that negotiations were talking longer than planned.
“Discussions continue around the price to be paid, the structure of the transaction and the transfer of a very large proportion of Tech Foundations liabilities,” Atos said.
Initially, Tech Foundations was to be sold to EPEI at an enterprise value of 2 billion euros, comprising 100 million euros in cash and the transfer of 1.9 billion of liabilities.
EPEI was also supposed to get a 7.5% stake in Eviden for 180 million euros as part of a 900 million euro capital increase by Atos.
However, Atos said it now planned to reduce the capital increase, which could result in EPEI not taking a stake in Eviden.
Atos added it was in talks with banks over its financing and refinancing.
It said it would assess over the first quarter whether its measures were sufficient to cover financing maturities and cash requirements on a long-term basis.
The group is planning two six-month extensions to a 1.5 billion euro loan, with the first effective from Jan. 29.
($1 = 0.9128 euros)
(Reporting by Michal Aleksandrowicz and Dagmarah Mackos in Gdansk; Additional reporting by Mathieu Rosemain in Paris;Editing by Jason Neely, Milla Nissi and Mark Potter)