Shares of the French information technology firm Atos SE rose higher today following a report that aeronautical giant Airbus SE is in talks to acquire a minority stake in the company’s nascent cybersecurity division.

The report came from Les Echos via Reuters, citing anonymous sources familiar with the discussions. Airbus declined to comment on the story, but told Reuters that it frequently holds private talks with its partners, customers and suppliers across the industry.

For its part, Atos declined to comment but revealed in December that it had already initiated “exploratory discussions with potential future minority shareholders in the scope of activities grouped under the name of Evidian.”

Atos was referring to its planned spinoff company, which is expected to consist of its cybersecurity division and other business units. The spinoff was announced in June 2022 following an internal review at Atos, which occurred after the company’s share price lost more than 50% of its value. That month, Atos told investors it’s struggling with a fragmented portfolio, a significant number of “red contracts,” high use of subcontractors, low productivity and an inadequate skill set of commercial resources.

Atos’s response to these problems was to announce that it will effectively break itself up into two smaller units. Evidian will consist of its cybersecurity division, big data and supercomputing services, while the second spinoff would consist of its dwindling IT infrastructure management business.

Les Echos said a minority stake in Evidian would be of strategic interest for Airbus, which is a key defense industry contractor. By taking a stake in Evidian, Airbus would guarantee access to the secure communications systems it installs in the military vehicles it produces. Airbus has an established presence in the cybersecurity industry, and in 2022 it consolidated its cyber activities into a new entity called Airbus Protect.

It’s not clear how far along the discussions have progressed, but Atos may be encouraged to play hardball after a recent uptick in its fortunes. In October, the company reported a return to revenue growth in its third-quarter financial results. It has also signed an eight-year deal to become the Union of European Football Associations football team partner, and recently struck a key partnership with the cloud computing firm Amazon Web Services Inc.

In June, Atos hired a new chief executive officer. Nourdine Bihmane became Atos’s fourth CEO since 2019 and its third in the last 12 months.

Image: Atos

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