Centaurus Cap Sells Half of Atos Origin Stake to PAI Partners

PARIS (Reuters) – Centaurus Capital halved its stake in the French IT services company Atos Origin (ATOS.PA: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) just two months after winning a landmark strategy battle with the board, but a source close to the activist fund said on Thursday it had no immediate plans to walk away from the firm.

“We are staying on the board and we continue to believe that Atos is undervalued,” the source with direct knowledge of Centaurus thinking told Reuters.

The same source confirmed that Centaurus had sold the Atos shares to private equity firm PAI Partners.

Centaurus declined to comment while PAI Partners could not be reached immediately for comment.

A regulatory filing with French stockmarket watchdog AMF on Thursday showed that Centaurus had cut its direct Atos stake to 6.66 percent from around 12 percent previously.

Centaurus, together with activist fund Pardus, now own a combined 16.71 percent in Atos’s capital.

On Wednesday the AMF had said that PAI Partners had raised its stake in Atos to 22.61 percent from around 18 percent previously, becoming the group’s top shareholder

A source close to Atos said that Centaurus’ move could be tied to financing pressure resulting from the global credit crunch which has reduced asset values of many investment funds and could possibly pave the way for an exit by the fund.

But the source close to Centaurus said the fund sold the shares to “take advantage of other opportunities”.

Pardus, which did not sell any of its Atos shares and still directly owns 10.04 percent, declined to comment.

However, a source close to Pardus said the fund had no plans to lower or sell its Atos stake.

Under a peace deal sealed earlier this year Atos Origin promised Pardus and Centaurus a strategy review to accelerate its recovery.

In return the funds promised not to break up the compny.

ITALIAN ACQUISITION?

Atos Origin said on Wednesday it had rejected an offer from private equity firm Candover (CDI.L: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) for its Atos Worldline unit as it was “of no strategic interest or financial interest”.

On Thursday it declined to comment on a report it could expand in electronic payments by buying Italy’s SIA SSB.

Citing several sources, French newspaper Les Echos said Citigroup was hired to sell SIA which aims for an operating margin of 13 percent on revenues of 400 million euros.

Besides Atos Origin, other possible buyers could be First Data and the Apax and Carlyle funds, Les Echos said.

The source close to Atos told Reuters the firm had looked at the SIA SSB dossier in the past but did not go ahead with an offer because of valuation considerations.

He added Atos was “keeping an eye” on the Italian situation in a global market situation where asset prices were on the decline but financing was harder to get, the same source said.

By Dominique Vidalon and Julien Ponthus
(Editing by Marcel Michelson and David Cowell)