The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI ) was just under breakeven in late trading as the Iraq conflict worried the market and oil rose to over $106 per barrel.
But not all news is bad on Wall Street, as the four-week average of new unemployment claims fell to 311,750, nearly a seven-year low. Although progress is slow, jobs are becoming more available and that is reflected in jobless claims numbers and the unemployment rate of 6.3%.
The Conference Board's Leading Economic Index also rose 0.5% last month to 101.7, and economist Ken Goldstein said the economy is headed toward greater than 2% growth. This echoes what the Federal Reserve said yesterday, and signs point to a pickup in growth during the second half of this year.
GE takes on Paris
After Alstom received a rival bid led by Siemens, General Electric (NYSE: GE ) modified its $17 billion offer for the French conglomerate's energy business. It was revealed today that in discussions with French officials -- who have been wary of the GE buyout -- GE CEO Jeff Immelt offered to form three joint ventures with Alstom to own the power-grid business, offshore wind and hydropower businesses, and the nuclear turbine business. GE's rail-signaling business would be sold to Alstom, but the cash paid to the parent company would be reduced by an unidentified amount.
Immelt is trying to reshape GE from a company dominated by financial services to one focused on industrial products, and Alstom is part of that strategy. GE is collecting grid-related assets to capitalize on required grid investments in emerging markets and aging infrastructure in the U.S. As renewable energy plays a larger part of the grid billions of dollars will be invested in new transmission and distribution capabilities; Alstom and GE are both investing in the business.
Renewable energy from wind and hydro sources is also a growth market in which GE is trying to solidify its position as an industry leader. The future of nuclear, however, is up in the air in developed countries.
Immelt has put a lot of energy and political capital into acquiring Alstom's energy assets or at least creating joint ventures. I don't know that it's imperative to complete a merger or acquisition, but failure here would be a blow to Immelt. I also doubt that this saga is over, as the Siemens-Mitsubishi-Hitachi team just threw its hat in the ring and likely has a counteroffer. But GE's all-out push seems to put it ahead in the race for Alstom's energy operations, a suddenly hot industrial asset.
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