Engineer ABB close to buying Thomas & Betts

SWISS engineering giant ABB was near an agreement last night to acquire US manufacturer Thomas & Betts for about $4bn (£2.5bn), the Wall Street Journal reported, citing unnamed people familiar with the matter.

An agreement could be announced as soon as today, though the talks could still fall apart, the paper said, citing the same unnamed sources.

Memphis-based Thomas & Betts makes electrical components for industrial companies in the United States, Canada and Europe.

It had sales of about $2bn in 2010 and is scheduled to report its 2011 and fourth quarter results today.

Zurich-based ABB, which makes power and automation systems for utilities and other big industrial companies, has told investors it was seeking acquisitions that could boost its annual growth by as much as four per cent.

The potential deal also could signal a revival in merger activity more broadly.

ABB has been on the acquisition trail in recent months, and last December snapped up fellow Swiss company Newave for SwFr170m (£118.4m).