Private equity giants Blackstone Group (BX) - Get Blackstone Group Inc. Class A Report , Bain Capital and Clayton, Dubilier are reportedly among the finalists to acquire the water business of General Electric (GE) - Get General Electric Company (GE) Report , with the conglomerate on track to complete the deal mid-year as expected.
Boston-based GE put the $2 billion-sales water platform on the block last year, and the company in December said that the business was generating "substantial interest." The New York Post reported Tuesday that the private equity firms have been invited to the final round of bidding, with bids approaching $3 billion expected.
Blackstone has experience buying GE assets, having partnered with Wells Fargo & Co. (WFC) - Get Wells Fargo & Company Report in 2015 to acquire GE Capital Real Estate for about $23 billion. The Post notes that private equity giant also has experience in the water business, having owned Ondeo Nalco Co. from 2003 until 2007.
The water deal is part of a broader reshaping of General Electric as the company looks to shift its portfolio mix towards areas it believes will generate higher returns--such a robotics and the proverbial Internet-of-Things--in the years to come. The company in recent years has sold assets including NBC Universal, its appliance business and much of its financial services and insurance operations, and said in December it would seek buyers of its $3 billion-sales industrial solutions business as well.
Shares of GE closed down less than a percent Tuesday at $31.37, nearly unchanged from the opening of 2017 trading.
Combined, GE said it expects to generate at least $4 billion in net proceeds from the sale of water and industrial solutions which, coupled with at least $6 billion in expected dividends to be paid by what remains of its GE Capital financial unit, would mean at least $10 billion worth of cash generation from portfolio actions in 2017.
GE is a holding in Jim Cramer's Action Alerts PLUS Charitable Trust Portfolio. Cramer, in a research note last month, said he walked away from the December meeting encouraged by the company's prospects.
"Management believes prospects for the U.S. economy are the best in recent years and the company has ample balance sheet capacity that can be used opportunistically to create value for shareholders," Cramer wrote.
GE has been an aggressive buyer in recent years, including building its energy operations by spending $16 billion to acquire Dresser Inc., Lufkin Industries Inc. and the power business of Alstom SA. In October it struck a $25.2 billion deal to combine its oil and gas business with Baker Hughes (BHI)
But analysts including Cowen & Co.'s Gautam Khanna have been skeptical that GE will use its cash to pursue another large acquisition in 2017, with the focus instead expected to be on integrating the Alstrom and Baker Hughes buys.
CEO Jeffrey Immelt said in December that while the oil sector has been more difficult than what the company envisioned even earlier in 2016 prices are stabilizing, and other sectors of the economy are strong. Immelt said that overall company officials are the "most optimistic we have been about the U.S. economy in many years."
Editors' pick: This story was originally published at 2:11 pm and has been updated.