What General Electric Co. Investors Need to Know About Its Alstom Bid

Make no mistake, General Electric (NYSE: GE  ) is a giant industrial powerhouse and the company wants to lead every market in which it competes. Right now, GE has its sights set on France's Alstom SA energy assets, which would make quite a nice fit inside General Electric's portfolio of businesses.

General Electric's nearly $17 billion bid for Alstom's energy assets would be the biggest deal in its history, but if you blinked this week you might have missed some big developments in GE's attempt to acquire the power business assets. Here are the details and what investors can expect in the days ahead.

Why it matters
Over the last couple of years, General Electric has dismissed under-performing businesses and distanced itself away from the financial debacle created by GE Capital during the most recent recession. Investors have largely cheered the move to focus on its energy and industrial business and Alstom's thermal, renewables (power), and grid businesses would make a great fit under GE's umbrella for a couple of reasons.

First, and perhaps most important, is that GE would get assets that will be instantly add incremental earnings to GE's results. During Alstom's 2013 fiscal year, its power and grid businesses alone combined to generate $20.2 billion in sales and $1.7 billion in income from operations. General Electric expects that the acquisition would add roughly $0.08-$0.10 of earnings per share in 2016.

In addition to Alstom being instantly accretive to earnings, GE would get the assets at a good price with its initial bid. The transaction is valued at roughly 7.9 times pro forma EBITDA for the 12 months ending in September, which has GE paying only about a 25% premium. 

Second, General Electric makes its name by flexing its conglomerate-sized might and producing synergies with its business portfolio. Alstom's assets would fit in that portfolio perfectly, and GE expects that it could generate more than $1.2 billion in cost synergies after five years.

Now here's what has happened this week to put GE's bid in jeopardy.

Germany and Japan team up
Nearly two months after General Electric put its offer on the table, Germany's Siemens teamed up with two of Japan's largest industrial companies, Mitsubishi and Hitachi, to provide a counter offer for Alstom's energy assets. Siemens is offering 3.9 billion euros for Alstom's gas turbines in combination with Mitsubishi and Hitachi paying 3.1 billion euros for stakes in Alstom's power grid, steam turbine, and hydro businesses.

Siemens also agreed to match General Electric's pledge to create 1,000 jobs in France. Siemens CEO Joe Kaeser claims its offer is superior. "Our offer is more attractive from a financial, industrial and political perspective," Kaeser told journalists, reported by Bloomberg. "It retains the Alstom brand to a significant extent and all-in-all is about a billion euros higher."

The ball is in GE's court
Throughout this entire process General Electric has said it won't be involved in a bidding war for Alstom's energy assets. But that doesn't mean that GE has to walk away after Siemens' counter offer, either. It can sweeten the bid with other concessions and that looks to be the plan when GE meets with the French government and unions Thursday. Reuters reports, from an unnamed source close to the deal, that the offer from General Electric would be improved.

But investors may be getting wary as GE has already made pretty significant concessions to try and appease the French government and close the deal. Those concessions include pledges for additional French jobs, potential offers with GE's railroad signaling business, and even an offer to sell Alstom's wind power unit to French investors. In fact, when you rewind this story back to the beginning, Alstom's board was already heavily in favor of accepting GE's initial bid before the French government became involved.

Looking ahead
An independent committee will give its review over the two proposals before the Alstom board meets and the board is due to announce its preference between the offers by Monday. This isn't General Electric's first rodeo, and investors should thus far trust management to play its cards wisely in negotiations, whether that is additional concessions or to walk away from the deal entirely, and make the best decision for long-term shareholders.

One advantage of holding stock in a conglomerate powerhouse such as GE, with a market capitalization of $268 billion, acquisitions like this aren't make-or-break deals as far as long-term investors are concerned.

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