BAe rules out GEC merger in next year

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The Independent Online
Sir Dick Evans, chief executive of British Aerospace, yesterday ruled out a merger with GEC for at least the next 12 months but held out the prospect of further tie-ups with European defence and aircraft groups.

The arrival this week at GEC of the former BAe executive George Simpson as chief executive has heightened speculation that an alliance between the two defence giants might at last be on the cards.

But Sir Dick played down the likelihood of an early tie-up. Speaking as BAe announced a 38 per cent leap in half-year profits to pounds 215m, he said: "George has stepped into one hell of a business and it will take him at least a year to get the feel of it. It is highly unlikely, even if we had the will or the requirement, that there will be discussion with GEC within that time."

However, he held out the prospect of further consolidation with rival European groups following the pounds 1bn merger of BAe's missiles division with that of the French group Matra.

BAe intends to support the bid that Matra's parent company Lagadere intends to make for the French defence electronics group Thomson when it is privatised. Ultimately, BAe wants to see the creation of a European defence and aerospace holding company along the lines of Unilever and Royal Dutch Shell.

Sir Dick also said that the four partners in the civil aircraft manufacturer Airbus Industrie, in which BAe has a 20 per cent stake, remained on course to agree a binding memorandum of understanding by the end of the year, paving the way for its conversion to a public company. A team of accountants from Price Waterhouse is drawing up pro forma accounts for the new Airbus company and valuing the assets each partner will put in.