22 May 2007 - 09:52
  • News Code: 105242

General Electric Co. said yesterday it will sell its plastics division for about $11.6 billion in the latest move to reshape one of the world’s largest companies.

GE said it would use the proceeds from the sale of Pittsfield, Mass.-based GE Plastics to petrochemicals manufacturer Saudi Basic Industries Corp. primarily to increase GE’s planned 2007 stock buyback program. It now expects to buy back $7 billion to $8 billion in stock, up from the previous plan of $6 billion.

 

The deal is expected to create a net gain, after taxes, of $1.5 billion for the Fairfield, Conn.-based conglomerate.

 

Saudi Basic, or Sabic, the world’s biggest chemical company by market value, will pay cash in the Persian Gulf region’s biggest-ever purchase. The company is seeking to gain products and operations in the United States, Asia and Europe.

 

The purchase will boost Sabic’s sales 29 percent, from $23 billion in 2006, and give it GE’s proprietary Lexan plastic used in roofs and lighting. Sabic, based in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, has doubled revenue since 2002, helped by access to the world’s biggest reserves of oil and natural gas, both raw materials for plastics. GE, by contrast, put the unit up for sale in January after the soaring cost of crude cut into earnings.

 

GE chairman and chief executive officer Jeff Immelt called the long-expected divestiture “another important step” in the company’s strategy to sell slower-growth businesses, such as insurance, so that it can invest in high-growth, high-technology businesses, such as health care and water-processing technology.

 

“We’ve exited businesses that are volatile, like plastics, and we’ve got a good run ahead of us,” Immelt said yesterday on cable channel MSNBC, which is operated by GE subsidiary NBC Universal.

 

GE’s shares rose 14 cents to $37.10. The stock has traded between $32.06 and $38.49 over the past year.

 

Mark Demos, portfolio manager for Fifth Third Asset Management in Minneapolis, said the sale price came in at the upper end of expectations.

 

“I think it’s a very good price for that asset,” Demos said.

 

Robert Schenosky, an industrial analyst with Jefferies & Co. in New York, welcomed the sale and said he would like GE to consider more divestitures. By shrinking, GE can make meaningful acquisitions to grow the company faster, he said.

 

“I think Mr. Immelt fully understands what he needs to do to try to reaccelerate the growth of the portfolio,” Schenosky said.

 

GE’s plastics division dates to 1930, resulting directly from Thomas Edison’s experiments with plastic filaments for light bulbs in the 1890s. It grew into a significant GE venture, where Immelt once worked.

 

GE Plastics supplies plastic resins to the automotive, health care and consumer electronics industries. It employs 10,300 people and GE values the business at about $6.65 billion.

 

The division has struggled since 2004 due to rising costs of natural gas and raw materials. Profits for the division fell by 22 percent in 2006, to $674 million.

 

SABIC intends to grow the business globally and is not planning work force reductions, company officials said.

 

“This business is complementary to our existing business without any overlaps,” said Mohamed Al-Mady, vice chairman and chief executive of SABIC.

 

“We buy companies for the quality of people and operations, and we plan to utilize these people,” Al-Mady said.

 

Sabic’s advantage will stem from its access to abundant sources of feedstock from state-owned Saudi Aramco, the world’s biggest oil company. The chemical-maker exploits the natural gas released during oil extraction and once burned at the wellhead to achieve costs lower than at U.S. and European competitors.

 

The late King Khalid bin Abdulaziz established Sabic in 1976 with the aim of making Saudi Arabia less dependent on oil. Once run from a small office with a handful of employees, it has grown to become the largest public company in the Middle East, employing about 19,000 people. Production capacity totals about 42 million metric tons, almost 20 percent more than in 2001.

 

Al-Mady declined to comment on potential regulatory hurdles

 

The deal is expected to close in the third quarter. Afterward, Brian Gladden, who serves as vice president of GE Plastics’ resin business, will become president and chief executive of the new business, which Saudi Basic Industries will rename.

 

Charlene Begley, the current president in chief executive of GE Plastics, will move to a corporate role focused on closing the deal and will report to Immelt.

 

PIN/AP

News Code 105242

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