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Aircraft giant Boeing wonders what Boone Pickens wants

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T.Boone Pickens, the Texas oilman and crafty corporate raider, has caused a collective shiver to run through the top management of Boeing, the giant aircraft manufacturer. Mr. Pickens has reportedly purchased more than $15 million of Boeing stock, which seems to many Wall Street investors sufficient proof the wily investor has a takeover ace up his sleeve.

Investors jumped on the Boeing bandwagon along with Pickens Tuesday, sending the stock soaring $7.50, to $53.

A major defense contractor, Seattle-based Boeing is using its clout in the Washington Legislature to lobby for anti-takeover legislation. There is also speculation the company could get the military to block a takeover for ``national-security reasons'' if such a move threatened the continuity of defense programs.

Many stock analysts, however, are skeptical that Pickens really wants to grapple with Boeing - an $8 billion company that would cost $12 billion or more to conquer, since Boeing would mount a costly defense. Most believe Pickens is just making a smart move on an undervalued stock.

Uncertainty has made the stock jump and provided more than enough incentive for Boeing management to adopt a ``poison pill'' anti-takeover defense.

Some think Pickens's move could put Boeing in play, making it ripe for the picking by Ford or General Electric.

Others believe management might be forced to buy back stock, restructure the company, or in some other way distribute cash to stockholders to satisfy them.

``Boeing is taking the threat very seriously,'' says Paul H. Nisbet, an aerospace analyst at Prudential-Bache Securities. ``They don't want to get caught napping.''

If Pickens were to make a run at the world's leading aerospace company, it is fairly certain Boeing would use all its financial muscle to make the fight long and hard.

``Its management is fiercely independent,'' Mr. Nisbet says. ``I think they would do anything to stay independent.''

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