General Electric Co. (GE) is close to signing a deal to merge its underperforming transportation business with Wabtec Corp (WAB), a U.S. maker of equipment for the rail industry, people familiar with the matter told Reuters.
Sources said the deal could be announced as early as this week and is being structured as a Reverse Morris Trust, a transaction that enables companies to spin off units without paying a massive tax bill. If the merger goes ahead, the combined business is expected to be valued at more than $20 billion.
GE’s shares rose 1.94% in pre-market trading.
The potential divestment of GE’s transportation business, which manufactures products including freight and passenger trains, marine diesel engines and mining equipment, forms part of CEO John Flannery’s plans to streamline the Boston-based conglomerate.
Flannery was appointed CEO in August 2017 with a mandate to cut costs and boost GE’s plummeting share price. Those plans have so far led the industrial conglomerate to slash its dividend, scrap senior manager bonuses, shift decision making to individual businesses and continue pruning parts of its sprawling portfolio of assets. (See also: The Rise and Fall of GE.)
News that GE’s transportation operations could now also be divested won’t come as a big surprise. In 2017, the unit, GE’s second-smallest by sales, posted an 11% drop in revenues to $4.2 billion, due to industry overcapacity and budget cuts by railroads. Just two years earlier, in 2015, the company's transportation sales came in at $5.9 billion.
If the deal to merge GE’s underperforming transportation business with Wilmerding, Pennsylvania-based Wabtec goes through, it would represent the company's biggest divestment since Flannery took over as CEO last August.
Flannery told shareholders last month that GE is “aware of the pain” caused by its poor performance and dividend cut and is doing everything in its power to reverse the situation. The company’s shares are down 14% year to date and down 47% over the past year. (See also: GE’s Breakout May Send Shares 15% Higher.)