Simpson pledges to double value of GEC

LORD SIMPSON, the chief executive of GEC, yesterday put his City reputation on the line by pledging to double the stock market value of the company in three to five years.

In a six-hour presentation to analysts and institutional investors, he committed GEC to achieving 12 to 14 per cent compound sales growth in each of the next five years.

The ambitious targets follow the pounds 7.5bn sale of GEC's Marconi arm to British Aerospace and are designed to return the business to the same size in market capitalisation and sales that it was prior to the demerger.

Lord Simpson disclosed that GEC would now seek a reclassification of its stock exchange listing from the electricals and electronics sector to the information technology sector, and a US listing.

Following the pounds 4bn acquisition of two US telecoms equipment suppliers - Reltec and Fore Systems - this year more than half GEC's sales will come from the high-growth telecoms sector.

Analysts and fund managers were told that once the Fore Systems deal and BAe sale are complete, GEC will have net debt of between pounds 1.75bn and pounds 2bn. Before the latest acquisitions it had a pro-forma cash pile of pounds 2.6bn.

Lord Simpson and his finance director, John Mayo, said the sales growth targets would be met by a "judicious mix" of organic growth and acquisitions. There are no more "blockbuster deals" on the horizon, but a number of acquisition opportunities to broaden GEC's reach in telecoms are in the pipeline.

Before the welter of deals that transformed GEC in the past 12 months, the group had sales of pounds 10.4bn and profits of pounds 954m. On a pro-forma basis, sales are now pounds 4.7bn and operating profits pounds 602m, assuming the defence demerger and completion of the Fore Systems deal.

Investors were told that Marconi Communications - the telecoms arm of GEC - expects to achieve annual revenue growth of 12 to 15 per cent by exploiting its strong position in growth markets such as the Internet.

Marconi Systems, comprising the medical imaging equipment manufacturer Picker, Videojet, which makes inkjet printers, and Gilbarco, maker of petrol pumps, has been set a 7 to 10 per cent sales growth target.

GEC is currently capitalised at pounds 17.7bn. Its shares slipped 16p yesterday to 648.5p on profit taking, but have risen by more than a third since Lord Simpson arrived in September 1996. He believes the goal of doubling market cap will be made easier by the fact that the businesses GEC is moving into command very high market ratings.

GEC, for instance, paid pounds 2.8bn - equivalent to 90 times earnings - for Fore Systems, which supplies Internet switching equipment. For that reason it has set itself a "stretch target" of doubling market value in three years.

Analysts believe that doubling sales within five years may prove a tougher target. The Reltec and Fore Systems deals brought in combined sales of pounds 848m.

The businesses which make up the group's third division, GEC Capital will be run for value and sold off if the opportunity arises. GEC Capital consists of GEC's remaining 24 per cent stake in power engineering and transport joint venture Alstom, its 50 per cent of the Hotpoint washing machine venture General Domestic Appliances, and its weighing machine subsidiary Avery Berkel and Woods.