Spirit AeroSystems Auction Sputters Along

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NEW YORK ( The Deal ) -- The CEO of Spirit AeroSystems Holdings said Friday the long-running auction of the company's Oklahoma plants was still ongoing, but hinted that the company could retain the factories if an adequate deal cannot be found.

Wichita, Kan.-based Spirit put the Tulsa and McAlester, Okla.-based wing assembly plants on the block in August 2013, concluding after a review sparked by CEO Larry Lawson that the plants would be better off under a new owner. The auction has since moved in fits and starts, raising some doubts as to whether the units would eventually be sold.

Lawson on a conference call with analysts Friday said that he's "not changing my mind" about selling the Tulsa plants, but said that if a potential deal is not in the best interest of Spirit "we could hold on to those assets."

Sources said in June that British manufacturer GKN was closing in on a deal for at least some of the wing assembly operations, with an announcement said to be possible before the July 4 holiday. That target date came and went without resolution, causing some to wonder if a transaction was still in the works.

GKN officials this week declined comment on whether the company was still in discussions with Spirit, and it is unclear whether Triumph Group , another rumored bidder, is still involved. Spirit management ran into a non-deal related unforeseen complication around the time of that deadline when six 737 fuselages headed from Spirit to Boeing's Washington state assembly line fell into the Clark Fork River in Montana after a train derailment.

Lawson on the call admitted the sales process has been drawn out, saying the timing on deals "are proportional to the number of stakeholders." Spirit according to sources has faced pushback from labor groups on a potential deal, and has fluctuated on whether to sell the entire wing business or just carve out the less lucrative parts of it.

Meanwhile Spirit's overall operations are showing steady improvements. The company on Friday reported a quarterly profit of $1.01 per share, compared to a loss of $1.47 per share a year prior, results that were well ahead of analyst expectations on both profit and revenue.

Spirit also raised its 2014 revenue forecast to $6.7 billion to $6.9 billion, from $6.5 billion to $6.7 billion, on stronger production demand from customer and one-time parent Boeing. Some analysts have speculated that GKN was primarily interested in doing a deal for the entire wing assembly business, including the Boeing work, and interest has been more tepid for the less profitable parts of the company.

Lawson also said that his company was likely to consider buying opportunities in the quarters to come. Spirit's potential M&A strategy would be focused on commercial aerospace over defense, and would likely not be far afield from the company's existing businesses building aerostructures and components for aerospace titans like Boeing and Airbus SAS.