LONDON/NEW YORK British aerospace and car parts maker GKN (GKN.L) is interested in buying a Spirit Aerosystems (SPR.N) wing factory in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and the U.S. company has hired Morgan Stanley (MS.N) to find a buyer, according to three people familiar with the matter.
The Tulsa factory employs about 3,000 people and produces wing structures and components for Boeing (BA.N) 737NG, 747, 777 and 787 jetliners, Spirit said.
Spirit also makes wing components in Kinston, North Carolina, for the Airbus A350, and has a factory in Prestwick, Scotland, that supplies many Airbus models, including the A380 superjumbo. A plant in Subang, Malaysia, makes composite wing sub-assemblies.
The broader Spirit wing division is not part of the possible sale, the sources said.
Spirit started reviewing four units, including divisions in Kansas and Oklahoma, after former Lockheed Martin executive Larry Lawson became chief executive in March, following losses from cost overruns in 2012. In May, Lawson hired Heidi Wood, longtime managing director of aerospace research at Morgan Stanley, as vice president of strategy at Spirit.
GKN, Spirit, Morgan Stanley and Boeing declined to comment. A spokeswoman for Airbus EAD.PA said such a transaction, if consummated, would not affect the European planemaker.
GKN designs and makes wings at its site in Filton, southwest England, and supplies aero structures, and fuel and flotation systems. Last year it bought Volvo's Aero aerospace business.
Aerospace provided about 20 percent of GKN's 6.9 billion pounds ($10.6 billion) of revenue in 2012.
Britain's Daily Mail newspaper said on Thursday that speculation about a bid for the whole company had intensified this week, citing dealers saying GKN could launch a cash and shares offer of $5 billion. Bank of America Merrill Lynch is advising GKN, the paper said.
The three sources with knowledge of the matter could not confirm if the whole of Spirit was part of the talks. They declined to be named because they were not authorized to speak publicly.
Jefferies analyst Sandy Morris said sale of some or all of Spirit's wing systems division was possible. BofA Merrill Lynch analysts say the division is underperforming, with about $1.3 billion in revenue in 2013 and margins of 4.5 percent. About $1.3 billion of Spirit's 2013 estimated $6 billion in sales are from wing systems, the analysts said.
On Thursday, Spirit Aerosystems said it was laying off about 360 workers in Kansas and Oklahoma. The company also makes airplane body sections for the best-selling Boeing 737 (BA.N) and Airbus A320 jets EAD.PA, as well as components for other aircraft makers, including Bombardier (BBDb.TO), Gulfstream (GD.N) and Mitsubishi (7011.T).
Boeing makes up about 80 percent of Spirit's business, a source familiar with the matter said.
On Friday, Spirit's share were up about 1 percent at $25.70 in New York. GKN shares fell about 0.8 percent to 324.10 pence in London.
On Thursday, Spirit's shares closed 5.7 percent higher at $25.45 while GKN shares fell 4.2 percent.
($1 = 0.6530 British pounds)