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STAMFORD-GE Capital Corp., in a $5.3-billion deal, reports it has signed a definitive merger agreement to acquire Chicago-based Heller Financial Inc.

The all cash deal will help GE Capital, the financial services subsidiary of General Electric Co., in a host of industries, including commercial real estate finance. The transaction, which does require regulatory approvals, has already been given the green light by the boards of both firms. Fuji Bank Ltd. owns 52% of the company or 100% of the company’s class B stock.

“Heller is a successful, world-class company with a strong commitment to the middle market whose core businesses fit perfectly with our own,” says chairman and CEO of GE Capital, Denis J. Nayden. “Through this transaction, we gain not only the benefits of complementary services and geographic reach, but also the ability to provide new products.”

GE Capital officials add that Heller’s main businesses in commercial finance, equipment leasing and real estate finance will enhance GE Capital’s core businesses in those areas. In addition, Heller provides GE Capital with “new international platforms in factoring” as well as offerings in health care finance. A GE Capital spokesperson notes that Heller is involved in the finance of assisted living, long-term care and other health care oriented real estate.

GE Capital, which employs 90,000 employees worldwide, will integrate Heller’s workforce of approximately 2,500 into its operations once the deal closes. Heller’s main offices are in Troy, MI; Chevy Chase, MD; Paris and London. GE Capital has assets of more than $370 billion, while Heller has an asset base of approximately $20 billion.

Marissa Moretti, a GE Capital spokesperson, notes that it is “too early to tell” what effect the merger would have on either company’s workforce or branch office locations.

“Over the past decade, Heller has built a brand name and a strong presence in middle market finance in both the US and key international markets,” says Richard Almeida, chairman and CEO of Heller. “Our focus on understanding the needs of our customers, and providing the innovative financial solutions they require, has produced a significant origination capability and an attractive growth profile. These factors, and our disciplined approach to financial and credit risk management, has created substantial value for our shareholders, employees and customers. The acquisition of Heller by one of the world’s premier financial services companies further validates what the people of Heller have created. Going forward, the synergies generated from the combination of our companies are truly exciting.”

The deal, if closed, would reverse a trend of failed transactions in 2001 by GE Capital and its parent General Electric. So far this year, bids by GE Capital to purchase CIT Group Inc., and Finova Group failed. In addition, plans by General Electric to purchase Honeywell International did not pass muster from overseas regulators.

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