General Electric Co. is pursuing assets sales with “urgency” to reduce its high debt and is unsure when its ailing power business will hit bottom, Chief Executive Officer Larry Culp said in a television interview on Nov. 12, sending its shares down as much as 10 percent.
Culp is facing tough questions about GE’s financial strength and earnings prospects after he was named CEO on Oct. 1 with a mandate to turn around the 126-year-old conglomerate.
“We have no higher priority right now than bringing leverage levels down,” Culp told CNBC. “We have plenty of opportunity to do that through asset sales.”
GE’s debt-to-equity ratio stood at 3.7 percent at the end of the third quarter, more than four times the industry average of 0.77 percent, Refinitiv data show. High debt levels can increase a company’s risk of default.
Culp said GE is trying to get “a better grounding in reality” in its ailing power business, which was responsible for its large loss in the third quarter.
Late last month, GE posted a quarterly loss of $22.8 billion, cut its annual dividend to just 4 cents a share and told investors it was facing a deepening federal accounting probe. The power unit lost $631 million in the quarter and wrote down $22 billion in goodwill because expected future profits in the unit now appear unlikely.
Since then, some Wall Street analysts have cast doubt on the company’s liquidity and slashed their target prices for the stock. Culp said he thinks the power business is “getting close” to bottoming out after more than a year of declining revenue and profit.
Former GE CEO John Flannery announced $20 billion in planned asset sales a year ago, but many are either still in the works or have not yielded enough cash to bring debt in line with peers.
GE’s largest deal so far, merging its railroad locomotive unit with Wabtec Corp., netted just $2.9 billion in proceeds and 9.9 percent of the combined company.
Culp said GE was considering potential deals involving its “crown jewel” aviation unit, which shares technology with power, but such moves were not a high priority.
“We wouldn’t say ‘no’ for all time to various options,” but breaking the unit out, monetizing it or raising equity were “not high on our list” of strategic moves, Culp said.
By Alwyn Scott & Rachit Vats