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Trading in Alstom Shares Suspended as Possible GE Bid is Weighed

NEW YORK (The Deal) -- Shares in French industrial conglomerate Alstom were halted from trading Friday as speculation turned to an imminent bid from General Electric (GE - Get Report) for the company's power assets only rather than a full takeover.

"What is exact, is that we are in talks over an industrial deal," Alstom CEO Patrick Kron said, labor union representatives told Reuters news agency. Without going into details, French Economy Minister Arnaud Montebourg told Le Monde newspaper that the government was working on "other solutions and scenarios" for Alstom, which was bailed out by the French government a decade ago.

Montebourg also said the government is concerned about the possible loss of "a major decision center" in case of a takeover of the French power plant equipment and high-speed train maker.

The latest developments come a day after Bloomberg News reported that GE is in talks to pay more than $13 billion for Alstom, in what would be the biggest-ever takeover for the Fairfield, Conn.-based company. Citing people familiar with the deal, the agency said CEO Jeff Immelt would be able to finance such a deal through the company's foreign cash reserves.

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Alstom shares rose 10.9% to 27.00 euros, before the late-morning trading suspension, adding to Thursday's gains; that puts its current market value at around 8.3 billion euros ($11.5 billion). On Wall Street, General Electric was down only marginally Thursday to finish the trading day at $25.43.

The companies have said little about the reported talks. GE said it doesn't comment on M&A rumors or market speculation, while Alstom has not said anything beyond Thursday's carefully worded statement that it was not aware of any potential takeover offer. It neither confirmed nor denied that talks were happening.

An Alstom spokesperson was not immediately available to comment on a report that its board is scheduled to meet later Friday.

Under Immelt, GE has been steadily shrinking its massive GE Capital operation in the years since the unit almost sank the company during the financial crisis.

At the same time, the company has been growing its energy and healthcare units, announcing plans this year to acquire the compression unit of Cameron International Corp. for $550 million and some life science assets of Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc. for $1.06 billion.

However, a purchase of Alstom would fall far outside the valuation range of $1 billion to $4 billion that Immelt stated in December he would stick to for M&A.

GE separately on Friday announced its first investment in the Indian solar power plant sector, announcing $24 million in funding for Welspun Renewables Energy Pvt. Ltd.'s Neemuch project in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh.

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