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Market Insight

ABB to Divest Thomas & Betts HVAC Business: What Does it Mean?

March 25, 2014

Preston Reine Preston Reine Research Manager, Industrial Technology, IHS Markit

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ABB announced last week that it has signed an agreement to divest Thomas & Betts’ heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) business for $260 million in an all-cash transaction to Nortek, Inc. (Nasdaq: NTK), headquartered in Providence, Rhode Island. ABB’s core competencies are motors and drives rather than full HVAC systems, and the limited synergies are likely what led to this sale. The divestiture is proof of the growing importance of a synergistic approach to system optimization. IHS has covered this trend in great detail, and recently began conducting research on motor-driven systems in the HVAC industry.

So how will this divestiture affect the market going forward? Thomas & Betts’ HVAC business focuses on commercial comfort and protection, which is well-aligned with Nortek, Inc.’s air-management systems. Because Nortek owns the air handling unit (AHU) provider, CES Group, it will be interesting to see if this acquisition will quickly serve as a boon to CES Group’s already fast-growing business.

According to a recent study by IHS, the US market for AHUs was estimated to be worth over $1.4 billion in 2013. Customized units, in which CES Group has a good presence, accounted for almost $600 million of that total, with automated catalog air handlers and fan coils making up a large majority of the remaining $800 million.

With both companies’ packaged HVAC systems it is likely that Nortek will be able to optimize production of air handling units. CES might even be able to replicate the highly-automated AHU production model that is utilized by such leading providers as Carrier, York, Daikin and Trane. This is a very competitive market and the industry players are constantly seeking greater efficiencies in order to lower production costs and improve profitability. The acquisition of Thomas & Betts’ HVAC business should have a positive impact on Nortek, leading to a greater share of the automated catalog air handlers and fan coils market.

IHS has recently published a study on the world market for fans and blowers in HVAC and industrial applications.

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