* Astrium services exec knocks down colleague’s comments
* GeoEye, DigitalGlobe shares rose on EADS’ unit interest
WASHINGTON, March 14 (Reuters) - European space company Astrium undercut on Wednesday its comments of just a day earlier on a possible acquisition of one of two U.S. digital imagery providers, GeoEye Inc or DigitalGlobe Inc , with an executive saying it has “absolutely no plans” for such a deal.
Evert Dudok, chief executive of Astrium Satellites, on Tuesday told Reuters the company’s parent, Europe’s EADS , was actively looking for takeover targets in the United States, and his subsidiary was “generally interested” in the two U.S. companies, especially if the price was right.
But on Wednesday, Eric Béranger, who heads Astrium’s satellite services division, said that his unit - which would head up any acquisition of GeoEye or DigitalGlobe - had no plans on its drawing board at this time.
“We have absolutely no plan for this,” Béranger told Reuters. “I am already busy integrating Vizada,” he said, referring to Astrium’s takeover last year of the Paris-based satellite services firm that has a large contract with the U.S. military.
Dudok’s comments on Tuesday prompted several analyst notes and drove shares of both GeoEye and DigitalGlobe broadly higher in Wednesday trading. GeoEye shares were trading 5 percent higher at $23.46 in early afternoon trade on the Nasdaq stock exchange. DigitalGlobe shares were up 3.1 percent at $13.49.
Dudok’s comments came after Sean O‘Keefe, chief executive of EADS North America, recently underscored the company’s determination to pump up its U.S. revenues through acquisitions, alliances or mergers, especially in the services and satellites sectors.
Frost & Sullivan analyst Aman Pannu issued a note on Wednesday saying that an acquisition of either DigitalGlobe or GeoEye would be an attractive proposition for Astrium, which is ranked third behind the two companies in the imagery market.
“This will increase its current market share within the very lucrative US market, positioning (Astrium) as the market leader,” Pannu said, noting that an acquisition would also give Astrium access to other growing markets including China and Russia.
GeoEye and DigitalGlobe shares have come under pressure in recent weeks from reports that the U.S. government plans to halve or significantly scale back its expected procurement of $7.3 billion in digital imagery over the next decade.