PARIS, March 1 French battery maker Saft
said it was seeking to speed up its development through
acquisitions in 2012 after cashing in on the end of its joint
venture with U.S. auto parts supplier Johnson Controls Inc
Saft, which received $145 million in cash for its share of
the joint venture which ended in September, said on Thursday it
had refinanced about $280 million in debt through bank loans and
a bond issue in dollars.
"We had ended the 2011 fiscal year with an extremely
significant cash level," Chief Financial Officer Bruno Dathis
told Reuters in an interview, adding that as well as paying a
previously announced dividend of 1 euro per share, Saft used the
cash to cut debt.
The group has 120-125 million euros in cash left, he said.
"We would like to use the rest of the available cash to
possibly make acquisitions if opportunities arise in the coming
months," he said.
The group is eyeing "modest-sized" companies in China or
Russia, as well as businesses which could help Saft improve its
technology in lithium-ion or enter new markets and technologies.
Last September, Saft and Johnson Controls, the largest U.S.
auto parts supplier, said they were ending a five-year
partnership in lithium-ion batteries designed for hybrid and
Today, Dathis said the company was giving itself some time
to think over its electric vehicle market strategy.
"Our goal is to discuss with the different car
manufacturers, especially European ones, and see if there is
room, on the zero emission car market, for a group of Saft's
size," Dathis said.
Saft said it had refinanced its debt with a five-year
syndicated loan of 100 million euros ($133.77 million) as well
as a $150 million bond issue on the private U.S. market,
maturing between 2019 and 2022.
It also obtained a 100 million euro revolving credit line
which it does not intend to use at first, Dathis said, but which
gives the company flexibility for the future.
"The aim of this refinancing was twofold: diversify the
company's financing sources, since previous debt was entirely
bank loans, and extend the debt maturities of the group."
Saft's gross debt fell 120 million euros to 216 million
after these operations.
"The refinancing gives the company good room for manoeuvre
especially to perhaps engage in new diversification," Françoise
Delva, analyst at Gilbert Dupont wrote in a note.