Atos’ talks with Czech billionaire Kretinsky collapse

By Thomson Reuters Feb 28, 2024 | 3:35 AM

By Mathieu Rosemain and Jason Hovet

PARIS/PRAGUE (Reuters) – Talks between Atos and Czech billionaire Daniel Kretinsky over the sale of its legacy operations have collapsed in yet another twist in a more than two-year-long saga at the French IT consulting firm.

The end of the negotiations represents the first major setback in France for Kretinsky, who made his fortune in the energy sector and made frontpage headlines following a string of high-stakes purchases in the country.

The end of talks is also a blow to Atos, as a sale of its Tech Foundations arm would have offloaded a string of loss-making operations at a time it is losing cash at fast pace and needs to refinance 4.7 billion-euros ($5.08 billion) in debt.

Atos and Kretinsky’s EPEI investment vehicle suffered no financial hit from ending the talks, Atos said. A spokesperson for Kretinsky declined to comment.

The talks soured after a change of chairman at Atos.

Atos’ new chairman Jean-Pierre Mustier, a former CEO at Italian bank UniCredit, decided to review the terms of the proposed deal with Kretinsky, soon after replacing Bertrand Meunier last October.


A source close to Kretinsky’s group said EPEI was “not ready to change the economic balance of the deal” and “didn’t want (the deal) under adjusted conditions.”

Mustier notably sought to extract more cash – more than 500 million euros – from the sale Tech Foundations, a source close to the matter said.

Under the initial plan announced last August, Kretinsky would have taken over the company for 100 million euros in cash and Atos would have transferred 1.9 billion euros of liabilities on its balance sheet to the new entity.

Atos had also planned to funnel hundreds of million of euros of working capital to Tech Foundations, a move that prompted the ire of several minority shareholders and criticism over the way the planned deal was laid out to the markets.

Home to assets deemed strategic by the French government, Atos’ woes have drawn the attention of French lawmakers and are the subject of hearings in the Senate.

Atos, a former member of France’s CAC 40 blue-chip index, has seen its share price plummet by 93% over the last two years after a string of setbacks that 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 four CEOs.

Atos shares were down in early trading but reversed course in the morning and were up by about 0.38% at 0917 GMT.

Atos, which provided no update on parallel talks over the possible sale of its cybersecurity division BDS to planemaker Airbus, said it was postponing the release of its full-year earnings to March 20 from Feb. 29.

It said it needed more time to complete an audit of non-cash good will impairment charges.

Atos reported a free cash outflow of 1.08 billion euros in 2023, up from 187 million euros a year earlier, and annual sales of 10.7 billion euros.

($1 = 0.9247 euros)

(Reporting by Mathieu Rosemain in Paris and Jason Hovet in Prague; Additional reporting by Sudip Kar-Gupta; editing by Piotr Lipinski, Jason Neely and Sharon Singleton)