Sunday, November 16, 2008 GE chief signals appetite for media assets

Jeffrey Immelt has declared his interest in buying media assets in a sign that a slumping economy has not shaken General Electric’s confidence in its television and film business, NBC Universal.

Media stocks have plunged this year amid concern the financial crisis will weigh heavily on companies dependent on advertising revenue and consumer spending.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Mr Immelt, GE chief executive, said the company had the resources to capitalise on bargains as it wades through the downturn.

“There are going to be some opportunities in media consolidation, in infrastructure, oil and gas, aviation,” Mr Immelt said. “And my hope is that we can play in some of those as time goes on.”

Mr Immelt’s stated willingness to expand his media business comes as Vivendi, which owns 20 per cent of NBCU, neared its annual window to exercise a put option that would force GE to buy back the stake.

In spite of repeated statements by GE executives that they would not sell NBCU, some investors and industry insiders remain convinced that Vivendi might trigger the put just to force GE’s hand on its commitment to the media company.

They reason that GE would rather sell all of NBCU than tie up cash to a business that does not fit within the conglomerate’s sprawling portfolio of industrial and financial businesses.

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