General Electric to buy Italy's Avio: WSJ

US industrial giant General Electric is on the verge of a deal to buy Italian aerospace group Avio SpA for as much as three billion euros, or nearly $4 billion, the Wall Street Journal reported Monday.

The newspaper said that GE and Avio's current majority owner, the European private equity firm Cinven, hope to announce the deal on Thursday, though issues remained over lack of interest in one part of Avio, its space business.

Avio, which had two billion euros in sales last year, builds engines and engine parts for civilian and military aircraft, satellite launch missiles, and naval vessels.

The Journal said that two-thirds of Avio's business is already with GE, itself a major aerospace engine maker, making Avio a logical fit for the American company.

Cinven controls 81 percent of Avio, with most of the rest -- 14 percent -- held by Finmeccanica, the Italian defense group.

In May, Finmeccanica set a deal to sell its stake to the Italian Strategic Fund, though that was contingent on Avio being publicly listed by the end of this year.

In a presentation to analysts Monday, GE chief executive Jeffrey Immelt avoided discussing a potential Avio deal.

He said that GE would likely eschew large takeovers, favoring smallish "bolt-on" additions.

"Last year I said $1 to $3 billion" for the additions, he added. Now though, he says, the price could be "up to $4 billion, in that range."

GE shares closed Monday up 1.4 percent to $21.93. The shares have gained 22.5 percent since the beginning of the year.

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