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Honeywell Outspends 3M to Tap Asia’s Growing Safety Concern

Honeywell International Inc. is poised to overtake 3M Co. as the world’s biggest maker of protective gear, buoyed by $3 billion in acquisitions since 2008 and stronger workplace-safety rules in developing countries.

Annual personal safety-products revenue at Honeywell may rise past $2 billion in 2012 once it closes on last month’s $338 million purchase of Singapore-based shoemaker King’s Safetywear Ltd. 3M posted safety sales of $1.85 billion in 2010 and projects growth of more than 10 percent this year.

The companies are vying for sales in a market that may already be $20 billion worldwide. Demand for equipment such as protective glasses and fall-protection harnesses is growing twice as fast as the global economy as regulators worldwide seek to cut a toll of 321,000 on-the-job fatalities a year, said Bill Hayes, Honeywell’s president of safety products.

“The regulations are moving so fast and advancing so quickly,” Hayes said in an interview. In Asian factories where employees once wore traditional street attire, “it’s literally moving from slippers to protective footwear.”

Buying King’s Safetywear adds to three years of similar investments by Honeywell, starting with the $1.2 billion acquisition of Norcross Safety Products. That put Honeywell into competition with a variety of small manufacturers and one global company: 3M, which entered the field 40 years ago by inventing the disposable safety mask. Honeywell will discuss next year’s outlook for businesses including safety products in a webcast at 9 a.m. New York time today.

Profitable Market

“This is a highly attractive market space that I think was probably overlooked for a number of years,” said Steve Winoker, a Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. analyst in New York who recommends buying 3M and holding Honeywell. “You have good strong growth globally in a profitable area that’s highly regulated.”

3M, which made its last major safety-related acquisition in 2007, has boosted development spending on protective equipment to help drive sales growth of about 72 percent in the past five years. Newly introduced products made up 19 percent of sales in 2010, compared with 6 percent in 2005.

“We tend to emphasize that a little bit more, but we’re not adverse to going out and getting what we need,” Frank Little, chief of 3M’s Occupational Health & Environmental Safety Division, said in a telephone interview.

Honeywell Outpacing 3M

3M’s bid of $825 million earlier this year for Capital Safety Ltd., a Milton Keynes, England-based maker of safety harnesses, was rejected as too low, people familiar with the sale process said last month. KKR & Co., a New York-based private equity firm, is set to acquire the company with a bid that may value it at about $1.1 billion, the people said.

Honeywell fell 3 percent this year before today, compared with a 9 percent drop for St. Paul, Minnesota-based 3M. Honeywell slid 1.5 percent to $51.55 yesterday in New York, while 3M declined 1.1 percent to $78.51.

Honeywell and 3M compete for sales of hard hats, safety glasses, ear protection, respirators, welding helmets and other personal protection gear. 3M’s safety business includes gas- detection equipment that Morris Township, New Jersey-based Honeywell doesn’t count in its safety-sales data.

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