ZURICH ABB (ABBN.S) is selling its high-voltage cabling business to NKT Cables (NKT.CO) in a deal worth 836 million euros ($932 million), the first fruit of the Swiss power and automation company's review of its massive Power Grids division.
Analysts interpreted the deal as a signal ABB was more likely to keep Power Grids when it gives an update on Oct. 4.
High-voltage cables is part of Power Grids, the $11.6 billion business which some of ABB's largest investors want to separate and spin off into a separate company.
ABB is trying to simplify its business amid shareholder criticism that its performance has suffered because it is too complex.
The sale of the cabling business to Denmark's NKT for an enterprise value of 836 million euro was part of its active portfolio management, ABB said.
Chief Executive Ulrich Spiesshofer has been trimming underperforming businesses, raising nearly $2 billion in proceeds since he took over three years ago.
"This transaction will simplify and focus the Power Grids portfolio," Power Grids division head Claudio Facchin said in a statement on Wednesday.
ABB described the cable business, which had sales of $524 million last year, as a niche business which has improved its performance in recent years.
"This could be interpreted that ABB is going to keep Power Grids because the cabling business is capital intensive, volatile, and not optimally scaled," said Richard Frei, an analyst at Zuercher Kantonalbank.
"Getting rid of it makes Power Grids a stronger, more focused, and simpler business, which could be used as an argument to keep it."
Still, pressure from Cevian Capital, an activist investor with a 6.2 percent stake, is likely to remain.
"It seems to be a sensible and sound structural deal," said Cevian's co-founder and managing partner, Christer Gardell.
"But it doesn’t change the big issue at all. We still think that Power Grids should be separated and listed by distributing the shares to ABB's shareholders."
High-voltage cables transmit large amounts of electricity over long distance for offshore wind farms and oil production rigs. It projects include a 105.5-km-long subsea power link in the Barents Sea north of Norway.
The business which designs, manufactures, installs and services cables employs around 900 and has a high-tech factory and research and development center in Karlskrona, Sweden.
The recently expanded factory and a cable-laying vessel under construction are part of the deal.
ABB is exiting the cable business amid what is likely to be the end to Europe's offshore wind-power boom years amid shrinking investments and uncertainty over future subsidies.
ABB unloaded its cable factory in Huntersville, South Carolina, in July 2015, shedding a new facility where only five years earlier had invested about $90 million.
ABB said it had agreed with NKT to work together on future projects in areas like sub-sea interconnections and direct current transmission links.
"The combination of our niche cable system business with the strength of NKT Cables demonstrates our commitment to active portfolio management," Spiesshofer said.
($1 = 0.8969 euros)
(Additional reporting by Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi and John Miller in Zurich and Johannes Hellstrom in Stockholm)