ITT Corp., responding late yesterday to rumors that had been swirling around financial markets for a couple of days, said it had had merger discussions with Sperry Corp., but that the negotiations had recently broken down.
"No negotiations leading to the acquisition of or merger with Sperry are currently taking place," ITT said, adding that it was, however, discussing with the computer maker the possibility of joint marketing or technology transfer arrangements. It was such talks that had briefly flared into merger discussions, ITT said.
Sperry had no comment, but its stock, which had been rising steadily for several days as the rumors built, closed $1.25 higher at $53. ITT stock, which has been dropping in recent days, edged 12 cents higher to $30.12. Both stocks were heavily traded.
ITT has been buffeted by controversy in recent months, much of it centering on criticism of the performance of many of the conglomerate's myriad divisions. In an apparent answer to the critics, the company recently announced plans to sell nearly $2 billion worth of operations.
Yesterday, one of ITT's major stockholders and severest critics, Minneapolis financier Irwin Jacobs, said he would oppose an ITT-Sperry merger. "I will not be passive if I think it's not in the best interest of shareholders," he said. "If they're going to go out and divest themselves of $1.7 billion in operations , then go out and do a Sperry Rand deal, it's like one step forward, 1,000 steps back."