Suez Sells Water Treatment Unit

French water and energy conglomerate Suez SA has announced it is selling its water treatment unit Ondeo Nalco, a maker of chemical products and filters used in water processing, to a group of U.S. investment firms for $4.2 billion.

The consortium of The Blackstone Group, Apollo Management LP and Goldman Sachs Capital Partners will also assume leases valued at another $150 million as part of the deal.

The deal was finalized and then announced Thursday as Suez posted a loss in the first half of the year that were reflected losses on disposals and write-downs. News of the pending deal was widely discussed yesterday, seen as imminent.

Suez lost euro1.64 billion ($1.77 billion) for the first half of the year compared with a net profit of euro164 million a year earlier.

Earnings fell under the weight of euro2 billion ($2.16 billion) in exceptional items including a loss of euro700 million ($757 million) booked during the first half from the Nalco disposal.

Struggling to estimate the scale of losses Suez would book on disposals, analysts had forecast a first-half loss of euro118 million ($127.7 million).

Suez said the sale of Nalco, based in Naperville, Ill., will allow it to complete its debt reduction plan, launched in January, ahead of time.

Nalco generated revenue of more than $2.6 billion in 2002, employs 10,000 people in 130 countries and has over 60,000 customers.

Selling Nalco, combined with the recent disposal of a waste management unit in Spain, will drive debt down to euro16.5 billion ($17.9 billion) from euro20.3 billion ($22 billion) as of June 30, Suez said.

In late 2002, the Suez board had complained about the company's lack of focus and urged management to cut both debt and costs.

Thus far, the company has sold stakes in insurer Axa SA, oil company Total SA, construction company Vinci SA, financial group Fortis NV, and a 75 percent interest in Northumbrian Water Group PLC, its British water arm. These sales generated a combined euro455 million ($492 million) loss over the first half.

The company also confirmed it plans to sell all of its communications assets as part of a further effort to narrow its focus on water, waste management and energy operations.

Suez holds a 37 percent stake in French television network M6-Metropole Television SA and interests in cable, telecommunications and theme channel operations.

The Associated Press

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