Siemens said to be preparing bid to buy Alstom’s gas turbine unit

Siemens AG is preparing a bid for Alstom SA’s energy unit that would leave it with the French company’s gas turbines while allowing partners Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. and Hitachi Ltd. to expand their steam turbines and hydro businesses, people familiar with the matter said.

Siemens would buy Alstom’s gas-turbines unit and the French company could use some of that cash for its shareholders or investments, the people said, asking not to be named as the matter is private. The offer, which could get announced as early as tomorrow, would see Mitsubishi Heavy, Hitachi and Alstom merge their steam turbines and hydro assets, with the Japanese companies taking a minority stake in the venture, they said.

The deal also has the potential to create a European transport group with Siemens and Alstom combining their rail assets, the people said. The board of the Munich-based company was scheduled to meet today and approve the plan, they said.

A bid by Siemens, Mitsubishi Heavy and Hitachi may increase pressure on General Electric Co. to improve its existing $17 billion offer for Alstom’s energy assets. Each side has competed for the backing of the government, which aims to preserve French interests regarding jobs, research centers, and turbines for nuclear plants.

“We’re not finished with improvements, on both sides,” French Finance Minister Michel Sapin said earlier Sunday. Siemens’s offer becomes more attractive with Mitsubishi Heavy participating, he said.

Under the proposed German offer, the French government and Mitsubishi Heavy may buy the 29 percent stake in Alstom held by Bouygues SA, the people said.

Alstom’s initial assessment of the Siemens-Mitsubishi plan is that it’s too complex, requiring a mix of cash and assets and the creation of joint ventures and the separation of existing operations, according to two people familiar with the matter.

The French company doesn’t view a separation of the gas and steam turbines business as viable, the people said.

Siemens and Mitsubishi Heavy have said they will decide by tomorrow whether to submit a joint offer to Alstom’s board of directors. A Siemens spokesman today declined to comment beyond that statement. Representatives for Alstom and Mitsubishi Heavy also declined to comment.

GE, based in Fairfield, Connecticut, has said it’s flexible on the terms of its bid, signaling a willingness to make concessions in negotiations with the French government. Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Immelt made a rare appearance by a U.S. corporate leader before France’s National Assembly in May, saying GE would protect jobs and the nation’s industrial base.

“We have made progress in our discussions with the French government, including expanded alliances in the energy businesses with French investors as well as a global partnership with Alstom on transport,” Deirdre Latour, a spokeswoman for GE, said today, declining to comment on details of the bid. “Alstom will remain a vibrant player in the energy and transportation industries.”

French Economy Minister Arnaud Montebourg presented union representatives with a plan for the government to team up with Mitsubishi Heavy to buy a stake in Alstom, Gabriel Artero, chairman of the metal-worker federation of the CFE-CGC union, said June 13.

Montebourg has said he favors Siemens’s offer because the proposal includes swapping its trainmaking business for Alstom’s energy assets to create two leading European companies in rail and energy. At the same time, Montebourg has also said GE’s bid is much improved after the company has pledged to create 1,000 new jobs in France. Alstom’s trainmaking unit isn’t part of GE’s offer.

The U.S. company agreed last month to a French government request to extend the deadline for consideration of the Alstom offer to June 23. French officials asked for the three-week delay while seeking better terms for an acquisition.