Atos Payments-Unit Split Sparks Interest From Potential Partners

Atos, a French rival of computer-services giant International Business Machines Corp., has received interest from potential partners for the electronic-payments unit it’s planning to split off by midyear.

A share of the payments unit could be sold to one or more partners, Senior Executive Vice President Gilles Grapinet said today in a phone interview. The Bezons, France-based company said in February it’s seeking to sell a minority stake in the unit, with an initial public offering as one option, to finance acquisitions to expand the business.

“Our announcement about the carve-out has generated a great deal of strategic interest from players in the payments world,” Grapinet said. “We’re busy finalizing the carve-out, that’s our priority. Our finance and mergers and acquisitions teams are evaluating scenarios.”

Atos’s goal is to make the electronic-payments unit, which had 1.1 billion euros ($1.4 billion) in sales last year, into Europe’s largest, Grapinet said. The company intends to keep majority of the unit once it has been split off, he said.

Grapinet declined to say if Atos has started discussions with any of the potential partners. The company has been approached by bankers about options, he said.

Atos today reported first-quarter sales fell 1.2 percent to 2.12 billion euros. The company confirmed its yearly forecast for “slight revenue growth” and an operating margin around 7.5 percent of sales, up from 6.6 percent in 2012.

Shares of Atos rose 2.2 percent to 53.13 euros at 9:19 a.m. in Paris. The stock had gained 13 percent in the 12 months preceding yesterday’s close.

“We expect a ramp-up throughout the year from what we see as a low point in the first quarter,” Grapinet said. “That’s both for macroeconomic reasons and because some large contracts we signed last year are bearing fruit.”

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