AsiaSat may seek delisting in New York

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 19 May, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 19 May, 2007, 12:00am

Asia Satellite Telecommunications Holdings said it might delist from the New York Stock Exchange, a month after its largest shareholders failed to take the firm private because of a veto by the United States government.

However, even if the company was not listed in the US, it would still need State Department approval for the change of ownership, said AsiaSat deputy chief executive William Wade.

'Like many other governments, the US always worries about transfers of technology from one approved company to another, so they just want us to remain a public company,' Mr Wade said.

AsiaSat last month said a joint buyout offer by US-based GE Capital Equity Investments, a unit of General Electric, and the mainland's Citic Group was blocked by the State Department.

It declined to specify its objections, except to say that its practice in such cases was simply to issue advice on the likelihood that a company such as AsiaSat would continue to be able to receive US exports of high-technology equipment and services following the completion of the deal.

Analysts said the State Department's disapproval was due to national security reasons, as state-owned Citic would have a 50 per cent stake in AsiaSat following privatisation.

Since the 1989 Tiananmen Square incident, the US has banned exports of military equipment to the mainland. However, it has allowed satellite-related equipment and services to be exported to companies such as AsiaSat on the grounds that the transactions are deemed to be in America's national interest.

AsiaSat operates three US-built communications satellites with another on order from Californian-based Space Systems/Loral.

Chief executive Peter Jackson said yesterday the company might delist to reduce its administrative costs, a move that can happen when the number of US-based shareholders falls below the required 300. AsiaSat has more than 1,000 holders of its ADRs, but has not tallied how many are in the US.

A new regulation on trading volume would soon come out for the US market that might also provide an opportunity for the company to delist if its ADRs did not meet requirements, Mr Jackson said.

'We do not plan to delist in Hong Kong at the moment as we cannot offer another privatisation plan within 12 months under Hong Kong's listing rules,' he said.

Two other Hong Kong-listed companies, telephone service provider PCCW and pay-television operator i-Cable Communications, have also said recently that they planned to delist in the US.

Separately, Mr Wade said AsiaSat 5, a new US-made satellite, will be launched in early 2009 to replace AsiaSat 2.

'We will transfer existing AsiaSat 2 customers onto AsiaSat 5 after it's launched,' he said. 'The new satellite will continue to look for new business in the region while the old one will run out of power and will no longer be useful.'

The company, which operates three satellites covering the Asia-Pacific region, said it would develop AsiaSat 6 to replace AsiaSat 3 by 2014.