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WASHINGTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) - Lockheed Martin Corp (LMT.N) and Textron Inc (TXT.N) have emerged as final contenders to buy United Technologies Corp's (UTX.N) Sikorsky Aircraft business, which could be valued at around $8 billion, according to people familiar with the matter.
UTC is weighing offers from the two companies and may come to a decision by the end of the month, one of the people said.
The company could still decide against an outright sale and instead spin off Sikorsky to shareholders in a tax-free deal, the people added, asking not to be named because the matter is not public.
Last month, UTC announced it was exiting the helicopter business and would either sell or spin off Sikorsky, which has come under pressure in the commercial market, where lower energy prices have slashed demand from the oil and gas sector.
Textron, which has a market capitalization of about $12 billion and is up against a much larger suitor, has reached out to private equity firms to put together a cash bid for Sikorsky, the people said. Lockheed Martin has a market value of about $60 billion.
Textron, maker of Bell helicopters and Cessna aircraft, had initially proposed a Reverse Morris Trust (RMT) merger between Sikorsky and Textron, a transaction that allows a parent company to sell its subsidiary while avoiding a hefty tax bill, Reuters previously reported.
UTC made clear it was not interested in acquiring a stake in Textron as part of the more complex transaction, the sources said. People familiar with the process had said that arrangement would have had substantial tax savings.
Textron then reached out private equity firms for help to make a cash offer, the sources said.
Boeing Co (BA.N), which had expressed interest in a potential deal, is no longer active in the sale process, the sources said. Airbus Group SE (AIR.PA), the world's largest civil helicopter maker which has said it is keeping an eye on the fate of Sikorsky, is not in the race to acquire it, another source familiar with the situation said.
Representatives for UTC, Lockheed, Textron, Boeing and Airbus declined comment.
Analysts have focused on Textron as the likeliest buyer, given its interest in beefing up its existing Bell Helicopter business. But industry executives said there could be antitrust questions on the commercial side, given that both companies make helicopters in similar market segments.
For Lockheed, acquiring Sikorsky would be the first major acquisition for Chief Executive Marillyn Hewson, who has helped nearly double the company's share price since taking over as CEO in January 2013.
Sikorsky is seen as a "signature company" that could help Lockheed produce strong revenues in the medium term, when production of the F-35 fighter jet program begins to taper off, said one of the sources. "It would certainly help Lockheed diversify its portfolio," said one of the sources.
Lockheed and Sikorsky already work together on several major helicopter programs, including the presidential helicopter, a combat rescue helicopter and the MH-60R- and S-model helicopters built for the Navy and Marine Corps.
Additional reporting by Greg Roumeliotis in New York and Tim Hepher in Paris; Editing by Soyoung Kim and David Gregorio