STEPHEN SINGER

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) ¿ Shares of Textron Inc. soared nearly 50 percent Thursday on heightened speculation the manufacturer will be purchased.

Published reports said a group of United Arab Emirates companies and a Kuwaiti firm are offering $21 per share for the Providence, R.I., company that manufactures Bell helicopters, Cessna jets and turf-maintenance equipment. Kuwait newspaper Al-Watan Daily, citing unidentified sources, reported the possible offer earlier.

The jump in the share price followed seven days of increases for Textron on speculation that it would be bought by Lockheed Martin Corp. or Raytheon Co.

Representatives of Lockheed Martin and Raytheon have said the two companies would not comment on rumors or speculation.

Andrew Wilkinson, senior market analyst at Interactive Brokers Group in Greenwich, Conn., said the significant increase Thursday indicates a possible deal may be more than a rumor.

"There's got to be something to it," he said. "It's well-placed speculation."

Still, Wilkinson said there may be questions about a consortium of Middle Eastern companies buying the manufacturer of helicopters that are supplied to the U.S. military. He cited opposition in 2006 to Dubai-owned DP World's plan to run several U.S. ports.

"How happy would this country be seeing a Kuwaiti company buying Bell helicopter?" he asked. "I would imagine there'd be some objections to this deal going through."

Michael Nasto, senior trader at U.S. Global Investors Inc. in San Antonio, said rumors at the beginning of the week, when the highest that Textron shares spiked was 11 percent Monday, are different from what's happening now.

"When we hear the rumors, it's one thing," he said. "There's renewed takeover chatter, options chatter spiking. It just kind of gives us a little more confirmation there. There's got to be something to these takeover rumors. It's had legs since Monday."

A spokeswoman for Textron did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

JPMorgan analyst C. Stephen Tusa Jr. said selling Textron is possible, but is overpriced at $21 per share.

"While it is difficult to make a call on today's press report of a possible takeout, we do think it is possible that the company could be sold, which would support the bull thesis that there is value in a sum-of-the-parts break up of the company," he said in a note to investors.

Textron is worth closer to $12 per share, Tusa said.

"That being said, it only takes one high bid to make the market, so we are not saying it does not happen, it just looks expensive to us," he said.

Textron has taken hits on two fronts. It's been battered by the financial crisis and a steep fall in business jet orders.

Analyst Jeffrey Sprague of Citi Investment Research said a possible deal would likely break up Textron. He said the UAE consortium is reportedly interested in Textron's "civil industries," which he said would primarily target Cessna.

The defense operations could then be sold to a U.S. company, avoiding problems of a sale to Mideast companies, he said.

Sprague said Textron's portfolio is worth a minimum of $15 per share.

Last month, it said it plans to further curtail production of Cessna jets this year as customers cancel or defer orders.

And its finance arm, which finances new and used Cessna business jets, golf courses and vacation-resort developments, has been particularly hard-hit by the deteriorating economy. Textron Financial began notifying customers late last year of plans to terminate financing and began advising them to seek alternate funding as part of its liquidation plans.

Shares of Textron soared $4.36 or 47 percent, to $13.47 in afternoon trading. The stock has more than doubled since March 31.

Copyright 2009 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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