New owners would acquire the largest U.S. prepreg supplier from London-based Imperial Chemical Industries plc under an agreement in principle announced Aug. 8. Amid industry uncertainty about consolidation, a partnership of DLJ Merchant Banking and Carlisle Enterprises LP will pursue final negotiations to buy ICI Fiberite, which comprises the operations of ICI Composites Inc. in North America and Fiberite Europe GmbH in Europe. The transaction could close within four months. Terms were not disclosed.
ICI Fiberite employs about 800 and op-erates plants in Tempe, Ariz., where the unit is based; Orange, Calif.; Greenville, Texas; Delano, Pa.; Winona, Minn.; and Ostringen, Germany. It produces continuous-fiber thermoset and thermoplastic advanced composite materials and thermoset chopped-fiber molding compounds.
ICI Fiberite's ``strength is our qualification base across the entire gamut of composite users,'' particularly in aerospace and sporting goods, said John Mc-Knight, director of sales and marketing. Aviation giant Boeing Co. is a major customer.
ICI Fiberite holds more than 30 percent of the U.S. prepreg materials market and has maintained its position during the defense and aerospace downturn since 1991. The pending consolidation of Hexcel Corp. and Ciba-GeigyLtd.'s composites unit may approach, but probably not surpass, ICI Fiberite's volume in composites.
Stephen Forsyth, vice president of international operations for Hexcel, welcomed the Aug. 8 announcement.
``It is encouraging to see [that] someone else sees opportunityin this business [and] to have ownership of Fiberite clarified. We view it as a positive,'' he said.
The Fiberite deal indicates the era of big chemical companies buying into advanced composites continues to wane. Parent firms got excited about the technology and invested heavily in plants and equipment, but a downturn left capacity underutilized.
ICI said the value of the transaction would represent less than 2 percent of its net assets.
New Fiberite owners may see different potential. DLJ Merchant Banking, a subsidiary of New York-based brokerage firm Donaldson Lufkin & Jenrette Inc., operates a $1 billion fund that invested or committed $370 million in 10 transactions in 1994.
Carlisle Enterprises LP, a La Jolla, Calif., mergers and acquisition firm formed in 1990, has completed numerous transactions involving companies such as AlliedSignal Inc.'s former Garrett Aviation Services unit and General Motors Corp.'s former Allison Engine Co. division. James S. Carlisle, managing partner and chief executive officer, focuses on aerospace and industrial manufacturing transactions.
Potentially, DLJ and Carlisle could buy one or more advanced composite operations to consolidate with Fiberite. Hexcel and Ciba are moving toward a September agreement to combine advanced composite, honeycomb, reinforcement fabric and structural component businesses.