General Electric Reveals Deeper Regulatory Probe, Restructuring

October 30, 2018 Updated: October 30, 2018

General Electric Co. slashed its quarterly dividend to a penny a share, promised to restructure its power unit and said it faced a deeper accounting probe as new Chief Executive Larry Culp took his first steps to revive the struggling conglomerate.

GE said the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and Department of Justice had expanded ongoing investigations to include a $22-billion writedown of goodwill from GE’s power division, which GE reported on Oct. 30.

GE’s restructuring of Power comes as the 126-year-old company, once the most valuable U.S. corporation, is reeling from missteps that have eroded profits and forced it to announce more than $40 billion in writedowns in less than a year, among the largest such actions in U.S. corporate history.

Culp, who took over on Oct. 1, delivered more bad news on Oct. 30: GE will significantly miss its full-year cash flow target of about $6 billion, and cannot estimate profits for the year until Culp gets more detail about its ailing power unit.

GE all but eliminated its quarterly dividend of 12 cents a share to conserve $3.9 billion in cash. Analysts viewed that positively, and Culp said there were no plans to raise equity capital, as some analysts had feared.

“My priorities in my first 100 days are positioning our businesses to win, starting with Power, and accelerating deleveraging,” Culp said in the results statement.

GE shares were down 8.5 percent at $10.21. They had been up earlier after the results.

New Power Structure

Former CEO John Flannery, who was on the job for just 14 months, said in June that GE would pare its focus to jet engines, power plants, and renewable energy by disposing of its healthcare and Baker Hughes units, along with other restructuring already in the works.

Culp added on Oct. 30 that GE will put its gas turbine equipment and services businesses in a new unit, a move analysts said likely foreshadows the sale of other power assets, such as steam turbines, nuclear plants, and power grids.

GE took on much of that capability in 2015 with a $10-billion acquisition of power assets from Alstom SA. It argued it could boost margins and profits. But profits fell as demand for fossil power plants slowed in response to cheaper solar and wind systems. Power services faced stiff competition in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere, and use of large power plants has declined, slowing repair revenue.

GE wrote down $22 billion in goodwill because the promised profits from power are now unlikely.

“They are acknowledging that it is not going to turn around in a hurry,” said Paul Healy, a professor at the Harvard Business School who focuses on corporate financial reporting.

Largely as a result, GE reported a loss of $22.8 billion for the third quarter on Oct. 30. The power business lost $631 million in the quarter.

Overall, GE posted a loss of $2.63 a share, compared with 16 cents profit a year ago, on a 4-percent revenue decline to $29.6 billion. Adjusted earnings were 14 cents a share, down from 21 cents a year ago. Analysts had expected 20 cents a share, according to Refinitiv data.

Orders at the power division fell 18 percent and revenue fell 33 percent in the quarter. “The only way out of this mess is to restructure power,” said Scott Davis, analyst at Melius Research in New York. “It will bottom eventually.”

GE did not cut its earnings forecast for the year from the most recent $1.00 to $1.07 per share, as some had expected. Analysts have cut estimates for adjusted earnings to 88 cents a share, on average, according to Refinitiv data. A spokeswoman said GE would not hit the old targets, but was not providing new ones just yet.

“I just don’t think Larry has his hands around this fully yet, enough to put his stamp of approval on guidance,” Davis said.

Credit agencies have since cut GE’s ratings, increasing its debt costs, and its financial challenges, which have prompted talk that it will issue stock to raise capital, limit the funds GE has to fix its power division, according to analysts.

 

By Alwyn Scott & Rachit Vats

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