French IT firm Atos was once a crown jewel valued at $15 billion. Now, it’s drowning in debt and the government is helping it stay afloat

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Atos has earned France a great deal of tech repute, whether with its shiny Olympics partnership or with the massive growth that made it one of Europe’s top IT companies. It’s also a strategically important company for France given its deep military and nuclear industry ties. 

At the peak of its success in 2017, led by now-EU commissioner Thierry Breton, Atos was valued at a whopping $15 billion.

It’s been a sharp fall from grace since, as the French crown jewel’s valuation is down nearly 98% since 2017. 

Atos is now struggling to address the €3.65 billion ($4 billion) debt pile due next year, as well as a similar amount in losses hanging over it. The situation has become a headache for the government as the company is too big to fail.

On Tuesday, the IT and cybersecurity company struck a deal with the French government and a group of banks and creditors for €450 million ($489 million) in interim loans. Atos said in its Tuesday release that any deal to deter bankruptcy could cause a “significant dilution of existing shareholders.” And that’s not all—Atos is looking for over €1 billion ($1.1 billion) in new financing for its business.

In exchange for the loan package, the French government will take a golden share of its key assets, which essentially gives it power to decide how the assets are managed.

The goal? To “support the group” through its financial crisis “while guaranteeing the protection of strategic activity,” France’s finance ministry said in a statement, the Financial Times reports. 

Atos tossing and turning

A slew of setbacks have led Atos to its shaky situation.

Since 2021, the French company has seen ambitious bids fall through, from U.S.’s DXC Technology rejecting Atos’s $10 billion bid to Airbus calling off talks to buy the company’s cybersecurity assets last month. Accounting trouble on some of Atos’s U.S. entities as well as a proposed plan to split the company that went awry made matters worse, according to Bloomberg.

A possible deal by Czech billionaire Daniel Kretinsky, the CEO of Atos’s largest shareholder Onepoint, to buy the company’s legacy operations fell through as well (although reports suggest he might be considering a new bid now). 

The Paris-based Atos’s share price has plunged over 97% in the last five years, while its financial woes continue to mount. It also expects its 2024 revenue to drop slightly before it bounces back to growth next year. 

Through Atos’s recent tumult, it’s helped to have the French government by its side. In February, France’s finance minister Bruno Le Maire told a local news outlet that the government intended for Atos to stay in “French hands” at any cost. And last month, when the Airbus deal failed, the French state said it would shield Atos’s strategic assets.  

While it’s unclear what the future holds for Atos, it’s certainly one that France cares too much about to not intervene in any way it can.

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