TE Connectivity, a maker of electrical connectors and sensors based in Switzerland with U.S. headquarters and executive offices in Berwyn, said Monday that it had reached an agreement to sell its undersea communications business, called SubCom, for $325 million.
The buyer of SubCom, which rolls cable across the ocean floor for Google, Facebook, and other large tech and telecom enterprises from its specially-designed ships, is Cerberus Capital Management LP, a Washington-based private-equity giant that owns Acme Markets and other companies.
The price was not quite half the value of SubCom's yearly sales, which total around $700 million. TE Connectivity said the business, with offices in Eatontown, N.J., and ships based in Baltimore and Portsmouth, N.H., was "minimally" profitable. TE had revenue of $13 billion in fiscal 2017.
"Program delays" from SubCom hurt TE Connectivity profit margins in its most recent earnings report, wrote David Holt, analyst for CFRA Research, in a report to clients. "The deal removes this overhang," and will boost profitability and growth for the company's remaining businesses in its data and devices and appliances unit, Holt said. The deal is scheduled to close later this year.
The seller will use the money to buy back shares, a common move by companies that find the impact on shareholder returns at least as favorable as acquisitions or research and development.
TE Connectivity shares topped $100 for the first time in January but closed Friday at $91.77. Like other industrial companies that operate U.S. factories and also have plants and customers in China and other foreign markets, the company has faced questions from investors about global demand since the Trump administration began raising import taxes (tariffs) and foreign governments retaliated with fees on U.S. products.
SubCom was "distinctly different from the rest of TE's connectivity and sensor portfolio," chief executive Terrence Curtin said in a statement announcing the sale. While SubCom is "a leader" in the global business of connecting the internet worldwide, it is also a cyclical business with only modest profit margins and uncertain growth, he added.
By contrast, most other TE Connectivity divisions produce small electrical components — or, increasingly, groups and assemblies of components — for large manufacturing and repair markets, such as cars, trucks, and aerospace, and for fast-growing sectors such as electric-vehicle and medical applications.
The move follows TE Connectivity's long string of asset sales since it was spun off in 2006 from the former Tyco International Ltd. Edward D. Breen, the former General Instruments cable salesman who headed West Windsor-based Tyco, broke that conglomerate into pieces in response to the former conglomerate's sagging share price. Breen has gone on to engineer DuPont Co.'s merger with Dow Chemical Co. and is currently overseeing another round of spin-offs from those two companies.
Under its first CEO Tom Lynch, TE Connectivity sold other industrial-equipment units, while buying firms that build connectors and sensors for use in "extreme environments" and expanding its original business as a supplier to auto companies. The auto business was based on TE Connectivity's predecessor, AMP, whose former plants remain a major employer in central Pennsylvania.
Acquisitions in recent years include Creganna Medical Group, Hirschmann Car Communication, and Advanced Cath (catheters), among many others.