June 5, 2019 / 8:47 AM / a month ago

Bombardier shares up on regional jet sale talks with Mitsubishi Heavy

MONTREAL/TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan’s Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd said on Wednesday it was holding talks to buy Bombardier Inc’s regional jet program, sending the Canadian company’s shares up 14%.

FILE PHOTO: The logo of Bombardier is seen during the Latin American Business Aviation Conference & Exhibition fair (LABACE) at Congonhas Airport in Sao Paulo, Brazil August 14, 2018. REUTERS/Paulo Whitaker

Mitsubishi Heavy, which is working to break into aviation with the launch of its own regional jet program, told Reuters by email that it was in discussions but that no decision had been made.

Bombardier also confirmed that it was in discussions with Mitsubishi Heavy but did not give any details.

The talks were reported earlier by industry news site The Air Current, which also said an announcement could come as soon as the June 17 start of the Paris Air Show.

Canada’s Bombardier is trying to find a solution for its money-losing CRJ program, which has no order book past 2020. For its part, Mitsubishi is hungry for expertise to develop and certify its delayed regional jet program, the MRJ.

“This has really been a Bombardier-Mitsubishi Heavy conversation,” said a source familiar with the Canadian company’s thinking. “The combination itself makes a ton of sense.”

The Canadian plane and trainmaker has been reorganizing its business, recently combining its aviation units to focus on more profitable business jets and passenger rail cars.

It sold a majority stake in its flagship 110-130 seat jetliner program to Europe’s Airbus. Bombardier’s CRJ competes against aircraft made by Brazil’s Embraer SA, which struck its own deal in recent months with U.S. planemaker Boeing Co.

Bombardier’s withdrawal from the civil airliner market and its plans to sell two component-making plants in Northern Ireland and Morocco comes as Western rivals keep a watchful eye on China’s growing passenger jet ambitions, experts say.

Industry sources have said Airbus is looking at the Belfast plant, which uses advanced wing manufacturing technology, but would prefer to see it go to a supplier such as GKN or Spirit. Airbus declined to comment.

STRATEGIC OPTIONS

Bombardier shares rose 14.3% to C$2.24 in afternoon trading, although the market had been expecting possible overtures between the two companies.

Bombardier Chief Executive Alain Bellemare had said in January the company was considering “all strategic options” for the regional jet program, including a potential sale.

It is not yet clear how an agreement between Bombardier and Mitsubishi, if the transaction is completed, would affect the CRJ’s production in Montreal or what the value of the deal would be.

AltaCorp analyst Chris Murray said in a note to clients that the CRJ program would likely fetch similar proceeds to Bombardier’s recent Q400 turboprop sale to Longview Capital, which garnered gross proceeds of $300 million.

Citi analyst Stephen Trent said in a note he expects higher potential gross proceeds, at $680 million, because Bombardier has delivered 1,900 regional jets during the program’s history, compared with 1,250 for the Q400.

Bombardier has been working to develop the CRJ’s profitable aftermarket business.

Bombardier had recently clashed in court with Mitsubishi Aircraft Corp, a unit of Mitsubishi Heavy, over allegations that former Bombardier employees passed on trade secrets to help with the development and certification of the MRJ regional jet.

Mitsubishi is working to certify the MRJ, which has been delayed by several years with first customer ANA Holdings Inc now expecting delivery in 2020 rather than in 2013 as originally planned.

Reporting by Allison Lampert, Chris Gallagher and Maki Shiraki; additional reporting by Tim Hepher; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Rosalba O'Brien

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