Will Bull Get A Charge Out Of France Telecom?

Of all the troubles besetting Europe's computer makers, those of France's Groupe Bull are among the most dire. On Mar. 27, the state-controlled company was expected to report special charges for 1990 of $660 million to pay for plant closings and 5,000 layoffs. That left the company with losses of about $1.2 billion on revenues of $6.3 billion for the year.

That's why Bull President Francis Lorentz has recruited France Telecom to assist in the company's restructuring. The state phone company already controls 17% of Bull, but despite government pressure to help a sister company in need, France Telecom has scoffed at putting up cold cash. It is negotiating instead to take over the management and funding of Bull's internal European and U. S. communications network. Besides saving Bull money, the arrangement could bolster the duo's ambition to sell network services around Europe by marrying Bull's small data communications business with France Telecom's network management expertise. But that would be only a bare-bones beginning to confronting intense competition from proposed teams of international heavyweights, such as one expected between IBM and British Telecom, and the combination that could result from a merger of AT&T and NCR.

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