* Studying options to strengthen balance sheet
* Asset sales, debt restructuring possible
* Submarine, enterprise units under management of CFO
* Alcatel exploring pledging of assets to raise debt-source
By Leila Abboud and Gwénaëlle Barzic
PARIS, Nov 2 (Reuters) - Alcatel-Lucent is considering selling its submarine cable business and a unit that supplies telephone systems to big companies as part of its effort to shore up its balance sheet, according to sources familiar with the matter.
The company has yet to hire banks to work on the deals, but a previously announced mid-September move to put the two businesses directly under Chief Financial Executive Paul Tufano is a sign they are candidates for sale, the sources said.
Alcatel-Lucent said on Friday it was studying options, including asset sales and a restructuring of its debt, to strengthen its balance sheet after posting a third-quarter loss.
“There are number of opportunities we are actively exploring to address our debt profile,” Tufano said on a call with analysts. “As we do that, it could have a material impact on how people view our liquidity.”
Goldman Sachs analysts estimated that sales of the submarine optic and the corporate telephony units could raise up to 400 million euros. One of the sources said the valuation would be “much higher” without giving details.
The submarine optics business, which employs 700-800 employees in France, manufactures, installs and maintains the undersea cables that link continents to transfer phone and Internet traffic. Potential buyers could include Nexans , which makes undersea cables for the electricity sector, or Italian cable maker Prysmian, the sources said.
The corporate telephony business is what was left of Alcatel’s enterprise business, after selling call centre unit Genesys to private equity fund Permira last year for $1.5 billion. It had tried to sell the business with Genesys last year, but found no takers for it.
Possible bidders include Canada’s Mitel and Siemens Enterprise Communications, which took part in the bidding for the business last year, the sources said.
A smaller business known as radio frequency systems, which sells cable and antenna equipment that goes on mobile antennas, is also being considered for sale, two of the sources said.
The company faces about 2.2 billion euros in debt repayments through to the end of 2015, with a major deadline on January 1, 2015, according to analysts. It has 2.96 billion euros on its balance sheet as of September 30, and nearly 4.63 billion euros of debt outstanding.
In parallel to studying asset sales, the group continues to work on ways to monetise its portfolio of 29,000 patents to boost liquidity. It signed a licensing deal with RPX Corp. in February on its patents.
One of the sources familiar with the matter said Alcatel-Lucent is also studying whether it could pledge some of its assets to raise debt.
“It would be like an asset-backed security,” the source said. “The asset sales altogether are too small to solve their financing issues, so they are looking at other ways to improve their credit profile.”
Alcatel-Lucent said in July that it was in negotiations with its banks on renewing a revolving credit facility. In April, part of the company’s 1.4 billion euros five-year revolving bank credit facility expired leaving it with 837 million euros available that expires in April 2013.
Sources told Reuters in September that a number of banks have been reluctant to lend due to the uncertainty around the company.
According to the source, doing a type of asset-backed security where Alcatel-Lucent pledges assets or its patents to raise debt could unblock the stalemate with banks over the credit facility.
Tufano hinted that the moves being explored on the debt profile could be linked to the credit facility issue: “It could also be done in concert with the RCF (revolving credit facility),” he said.
A spokeswoman for the company declined to comment on specific asset sales or debt options. “We are reviewing all our options and will communicate when appropriate,” she said.