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Alcatel-Lucent to Sell Enterprise Unit to China Huaxin

Stocks in this article: ALU

PARIS (The Deal) -- France's Alcatel-Lucent (ALU) said Thursday it has received a binding offer from China Huaxin for 85% of its Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise unit. The offer values the maker of phone systems and other business equipment at 268 million euros ($362 million) including debt.

The sale, which is due to be signed off during the second quarter, would be the second disposal overseen by CEO Michel Combes since his arrival a year ago and his promise in June to sell 1 billion euros of assets by the end of 2015.

Combes promised the sales, and a 1 billion euros reduction in costs, as part of a turnaround plan, dubbed the "Shift Plan", which is the latest in a series of efforts to reverse the flagging fortunes of a business created in 2006 through the $13.4 billion merger of Altacel SA and Lucent Technologies. That deal was meant to create a technology giant with the muscle to compete across a wide range of markets but instead left the company too thinly spread and with too many low-margin, high-cost operations in declining markets.

The first signs that Combes might be succeeding where a series of predecessors failed was apparent Thursday, when the company reported fourth-quarter net profit of 134 million euros, ending an almost two-year losing streak that has cost it about 3.5 billion. Alcatel-Lucent posted a net loss of 1.29 billion euros for 2013, an improvement on its previous year loss of 2.09 billion euros.

"The Shift Plan is already deeply altering the company," Combes told a conference call Thursday. "The growth of our gross margin is robust and sustainable."

State-backed technology investor China Huaxin's offer for Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise comes just under two months after Alcatel-Lucent agreed to sell its LGS Innovations LLC division to Chicago's Madison Dearborn Partners LLC for as much as $200 million.

The two business form the bulk of Alcatel-Lucent's so called "other" business segment, which reported revenue of 232 million euros for the fourth quarter and operating income of 12 million euros. Alcatel-Lucent did not provide a breakdown of the revenue and income.

Combes said Thursday that he had sold Alcatel-Lucent assets worth a total 350 million euros and was on track to achieve his plan to offload 1 billion euros of operations by the end of 2015.

Alcatel-Lucent plans to retain 15% of the Enterprise unit being to China Huaxin. The Chinese company already works with Alcatel-Lucent as a partner to its Alcatel-Lucent Shanghai Bell unit, which supplies broadband technology to China Telecom Corp. Ltd.

Shares in Alcatel-Lucent traded Thursday at 3.31 euros, up 0.29 euro, or 9.5% on their Wednesday close. The shares have increased in value about three-fold in the past year, lifting the company's market capitalization to 9.05 billion euros, but still leaving it just under two-thirds lower than its value in the immediate wake of its formative merger.

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