French state seeks to acquire Atos' strategic activities

FILE PHOTO: Logo of French IT consulting firm Atos, in Angers

By Mathieu Rosemain

PARIS (Reuters) -The French government sent a letter of intent to Atos over the weekend with the aim of acquiring all of its activities that the state deems strategic, as the IT consulting firm strives to restructure its debt.

An official at the Finance Ministry said on Sunday the French state was targeting three of Atos's activities - Advanced Computing, Critical Systems and Cyber Products - deemed to have strategic importance.

Atos secures communications for the French military and secret services and manufactures servers to make supercomputers capable of processing vast amounts of data for research or to develop the nascent artificial intelligence industry.

The entities, part of Atos' prized cybersecurity unit BDS, employ about 4,000 people and generate about 900 million euros ($962 million) of annual sales, the official said, speaking before comments by Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire in an interview with French news channel LCI.

"This weekend I filed a letter of intent to acquire all the sovereign activities of Atos," Le Maire said, adding he wished to see other industrial groups join the French state's potential bid for the activities, without elaborating.

The consortium, led by France's state shareholding agency APE, would include other "French sovereign players", Le Maire said, declining to name them.

There has been speculation in the French press that defence groups such as Thales and Dassault Aviation could take part in a plan to safeguard the assets.

Thales and Atos declined to comment, while Dassault Aviation was not immediately available for comment.

The aim is to build an offer by June, the official said, declining to elaborate on the estimated valuation the Finance Ministry had made in its indicative offer for Atos's entities.

The expected offer is not conditioned to the formation of a consortium, but the aim is to have one, the official said. It was not clear what exact stake the French state would get in Atos's activities.

Atos, which manages data and cybersecurity for the upcoming Olympic Games, is in the midst of a refinancing, which includes raising 1.2 billion euros ($1.3 billion) via equity and new loans and will result in significant dilution for existing shareholders.

Shares in Atos, whose net debt stood at 3.9 billion euros at the end of March, have plummeted over the past two years after a string of profit warnings, a revolving-door of CEOs and the collapse of potential asset sales, notably BDS and its legacy operation Tech Foundations.

($1 = 0.9353 euros)

(Reporting by Mathieu Rosemain; Editing by Hugh Lawson and David Holmes)