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GE makes $3.2B energy acquisition

General Electric Co. (GE-N) reached a $3.2 billion US cash deal to acquire a French maker of high-efficiency motors used in the oil and gas sector, pouring more money into its most profitable division.

The largest U.S. conglomerate said its acquisition of Converteam, which also makes equipment to connect sources of renewable power such as wind turbines to the electric grid and reported 2010 revenue of $1.5 billion, would boost its offering of equipment used across the energy industry.

GE has made roughly $14 billion worth of acquisitions over the past year - with $11 billion in energy alone - as Chief Executive Officer Jeff Immelt worked to move the company away from its former dependence on financial services.

But the energy unit - which last year accounted for a quarter of GE's $150 billion in revenue and was its most profitable division - will take a break from takeovers after Converteam closes, which it expects in the third quarter.

"As you look forward here, our top priority is going to be making these acquisitions work for GE shareholders, not adding to the heap," said John Krenicki, a GE vice chairman who heads the company's Energy Infrastructure unit.

BREAK FROM ENERGY TAKEOVERS

Asked in an interview today if GE Energy would continue its torrid rate of dealmaking, Krenicki said: "Not this pace, no.

"They have been very focused on the energy side, with various purchases that they made. It's a good thing that they are sticking to the outline," said Peter Klein, a senior portfolio manager at Fifth Third Asset Management in Cleveland, Ohio, who holds GE shares. "This is an important area for them."

Since 2010, company officials have said they could allocate $30 billion in cash to acquisitions, share buybacks and increases to the corporate dividend. GE ended the year with $79 billion in cash and equivalents on its books, $19 billion of which was held by the parent company with the bulk at the GE Capital finance arm, according to a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

The deal values Converteam at about 15 times its $239 million in earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, Krenicki said.

GE's other big recent energy deals include the $3 billion takeover of Dresser Inc., which makes gas engines used in oil production and mining, and the $1.3 billion takeover of British oil equipment company Wellstream Holdings.

It has also been a seller, closing in January its sale of a 51 percent stake in the NBC Universal media business to No. 1 U.S. cable operator Comcast Corp.

Converteam's products, electric motors that can replace gas-fired engines in oil and gas production, also give GE a chance to build its presence in supplying equipment to the fast-growing mining and metal sectors, Krenicki said.

KEEPING EXISTING MANAGEMENT

GE said it would buy about 90 percent of Converteam, which was carved out of Alstom SA in a management buyout five years ago, from a group of current shareholders that include Barclays Private Equity and LBO France.

Massy, France-based Converteam's existing management will retain a 10 percent stake in the company and will remain with the operation through the acquisition. GE said it will have the right to buy the remaining 10 percent over the next two to five years for no more than $480 million.

GE wanted to keep the existing management team in place to help work on ways to expand the combined companies' reach to better serve new industries, executives said.

"We have significant research and development we have been doing and we want to keep them on board to integrate the technology portfolio and help go into the mining and marine propulsion space," said Joe Mastrangelo, a GE vice president.

That sort of technology could help GE continue to expand its energy unit, Krenicki said: "There's no reason that we could not have a GE Mining or GE Metals unit similar to what we have with GE Oil & Gas."

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