Gilbert Sedbon/PARIS

THE LAGARDERE GROUP, the powerful holding company for missiles and satellites builder Matra, has launched an offensive to acquire defence-electronics giant Thomson-CSF.

Speaking during a presentation on 1996 profit forecasts for the media and aerospace group, chairman Jean-Luc Lagardere said that the privatisation of Thomson-CSF "...interests our group to the highest degree".

Lagardere, already a majority shareholder in Matra Marconi Space with GEC-Marconi, and renegotiating a missile tie-up with British Aerospace, is interested in all or parts of Thomson-CSF.

French President Jacques Chirac announced in February a reform of the French defence industry to create two centres of expertise, one for defence electronics, the other for aerospace. Chirac says that he wants Thomson SA, which includes a huge loss-making consumer-electronics arm, to be privatised as one entity.

Lagardere is waiting to hear the details of the privatisation of Thomson SA before formally expressing its intention to bid. "We believe Matra is the right partner for Thomson-CSF, and the creation of a high-technology defence industry in Europe," says Lagardere. The group is expected to face heavy opposition to the buy-out from rival Alcatel-Alsthom.

While Lagardere and Alcatel spar over Thomson-CSF, France's aerospace industry is, for the first time in several years, heading for a slight recovery in fortunes this year.

Lagardere says expects to make a Fr1 billion ($200 million) net profit in 1996. GIFAS, the industry federation representing 120 aerospace companies, expects sales to grow by 1.9% this year, to around Fr102.5 billion after dropping in 1995 by 4.6% to Fr100.6 billion. According to latest estimates, the industry has slumped by 20% since 1991.

Among the three main industrial sectors, only equipment manufacturers posted a sales rise in 1995, managing a 2.4% increase. Aircraft and missiles sales fell by 6.5%, while sales at aero engine suppliers dropped by 8%.

GIFAS vice-president Edmond Marchegay, who is also chairman of equipment maker Inter-technique, says that 1995 was the first year since 1990 that new orders had overtaken sales.

Source: Flight International