Sikorsky sets sights lower on M&A front

The Sikorsky helicopter unit of diversified U.S. manufacturer United Technologies Corp is on the hunt for acquisitions of smaller companies that maintain aircraft – a business that can offer a higher profit margin than selling them, a top executive said on Friday.

“In the aerospace services area, I think there’s a huge MRO (maintenance, repair and overhaul) market out there that could be consolidated,” Jeff Pino, Sikorsky’s president told investors in New York, where United Tech was providing an update on its 2010 outlook.

While his words caught analysts’ attention, they suggested a smaller-scale approach to takeovers than the company had in mind last year, when it entertained questions about trying to buy the Bell helicopter unit of rival Textron Inc, which was coping with a plummeting stock price in the face of a market rout.

That deal never occurred – and Providence, Rhode Island-based Textron has seen its shares surge about fourfold over the past year, easing pressure.

Investors did not specifically ask Pino about the Bell question, and he gave no sign of thinking about the one that got away.

Final chapter of an aviation flirtation?

Throughout 2009, United Technologies Corp Chief Executive Louis Chenevert’s mantra was that the diversified U.S. manufacturer was a “willing buyer” with a $2 billion takeover budget and that all it needed was to find a “willing seller.”

Its deal last week to buy General Electric Co’s security business for $1.82 billion answered the question of what the world’s largest maker of elevators and air conditioners was going to do with its M&A budget.

But one question was left unanswered — what of Textron Inc’s Bell helicopter unit? An executive at United Tech’s Sikorsky arm in March said that a merger with Bell was an “interesting hypothesis.”