GE, Siemens defend rival plans for France's Alstom

Tue May 27, 2014 3:50pm EDT
 
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By Natalie Huet and Benjamin Mallet

PARIS (Reuters) - General Electric (GE.N: Quote) and Siemens defended rival proposals to buy the power arm of Alstom (ALSO.PA: Quote) on Tuesday, both assuring France that its prized engineering firm would emerge strengthened, including in its remaining transport business.

Top executives for both groups told lawmakers their plans were good for Alstom, for France and its jobs, as they strived to address government concerns over the fate of the once bailed-out company and the nation's wider industrial footprint.

During a parliamentary hearing, the chairman of Siemens France, Christophe de Maistre, said the German group hoped to submit by June 16 at the latest a formal asset swap offer that would create two European industry champions, one in power around Siemens, the other in rail around Alstom.

GE Chief Executive Jeff Immelt, meanwhile, spoke in defence of his group's 12.35 billion euro ($16.9 billion) bid for Alstom's power arm. He said GE would make detailed commitments to increase jobs in France, including by opening new sites, and was also considering a tie-up in rail signalling that would give Alstom control of that business.

The French government has said it wanted better offers that would preserve jobs as well as the country's energy independence. Alstom is a supplier of turbines for nuclear plants worldwide, and Paris is concerned that a straight sale of its power arm could hurt France's position in the energy sector.

The government is also worried that Alstom, which makes France's iconic TGV high-speed trains and was bailed out a decade ago, would be too weak as a standalone rail group.

Tuesday's parliamentary hearing took place after GE agreed to extend its bid timetable by three weeks until June 23 at the government's request, a letter of intent from Siemens offering to pursue a rival proposal, and a French government decree giving itself an effective veto on any deal.

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Jeff Immelt, Chairman and CEO of General Electric speaks at a news conference announcing the Head Health Initiative along with the National Football League (NFL), in New York March 11, 2013. REUTERS/Mike Segar