General Electric Stock: It’s About GE Healthcare and Profits

When General Electric cut its dividend to a penny per share for the course of 2019, after cutting it in half from $0.24 to $0.12 quarterly during the 2017-2018 time period, most investors kind of had the idea that GE was in trouble and stayed away from the stock because there is often some (justified I might add) criticism of the business on a seemingly daily basis.

Even today, people might take a casual glance at the stock, see it is trading at around $11 per share, and think, “Yeah, that is a stinker.” Of course, there is more to see than that. This time last year, the stock fell below $7 per share. Once a stock is down in the low single digit and low double-digits, every dollar change in the stock price may seem like much ado about nothing. But of course, we know that the investor who bought shares in the stock this time last year would now be sitting on a 57% one-year gain. 

And the near elimination of the dividend has given General Electric a lot of capital to repair itself. A couple of years ago, it was paying out $7 billion or even $8 billion to shareholders as dividends. The problem with the business is that various insurance-related subsidiaries (such as not reserving nearly enough for its long-term insurance disability subsidiary) and even its power-related operations (harder to sell new gas equipment when oil prices have been low the past few years) have been suffering through difficult operating conditions.

But despite it all, General Electric is still earning profits of over $5 billion. With the dividend cut to a penny, nearly all of those profits can be used to rebuild the business by funding capital reserves, investing in the continued development of its industrial operations, and so on. Dividend cuts among companies that retain billion-dollar profits after the dividend cut are often the best candidates for recovery because the issues that caused the dividend cut can be addressed rather than paid out to shareholders as dividends. It’s basically Bank of America in industrial form.

Over the coming five year pull, I think investors are going to see General Electric stock grow its earnings from $0.60 per share to somewhere around $1.25 to $1.50. With a possible P/E rati of 17 to 20, we are looking at a future price of $21 to $30 per share sometime during the 2024-2026 stretch.

If General Electric was maintaining its dividend of $0.12 per share from 2018, it would be paying out nearly all of its $5 billion in annual profits as dividends. Under those circumstances, stagnation and malaise could have been in the offing for half-a-decade because there would have been no real substantial/excess capital to fix the business. 

There is also the fact that GE Healthcare remains a jewel (and Culp recognizes it as an extreme cash cow because he comes from Danaher which is essentially a conglomerate that aggregates highly cash-generative businesses in the health-care field) and seems to have been wisely taken off the chopping block. 

This means that General Electric continues to have a health-care arm that is generally substantial profits and nearly all of those profits are now available to fix the power, aviation, and industrial segments of the business. 

General Electric has been left for dead because it has disappointed shareholders for about twenty years now. But there is a reason why every investment prospectus contains the adage “Past performance is no guarantee of future returns.” Bank of America investors lost their shirts from 1999-2009, but from 2009-2019, there were not many better places to invest. Being a Bank of America shareholder means very different things if you’re a “2009 Bank of America investor” or a “1999 Bank of America investor.” I suspect that dichotomy will play out between the “2019 General Electric investor” and the “1999 General Electric investor.” 

If you study the GE Healthcare arm, observe the $5+ billion profits that are not earmarked for dividends or other commitments, and see the sustained low stock valuation, you are going to view this historically significant conglomerate differently than most of the financial press. 

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2 thoughts on “General Electric Stock: It’s About GE Healthcare and Profits

  1. John Heck says:

    Perhaps thoughtful investors aren’t taking pause at GE’s $11 quote, but because of uncertainty about its future. It’s been the Mimi (q.v. La Boheme) of the industrial sector — weakened with TB, and one terrible winter (or recession) away from giving up the ghost. Now maybe Mr. Culp has indeed exorcised the ghosts of Immelt past (unclear), but the BoD is mostly unchanged. Still, looked at in isolation, GE may be a fine opportunity for acquiring some shares in hope that your forecasts come to pass.

    But looked at in the context of the market as a whole — or even just the industrial sector — the question is whether GE is the best opportunity — or even in the top 25 — among what’s available for investment at the present time. I wasnt a 1999 nor a 2019 — rather a 2009 GE investor who hit the exit later than he should have. And who doesn’t see GE’s current propects as compelling enough to open his wallet for a single share of their stock.

  2. Joe Garofalo says:

    The big risk with GE is that it will need to continue dismantling itself to pay off future and currently undisclosed liabilities before Culp’s turnaround efforts have a chance to take effect. Baker Hughes is going away, GE Transportation is already gone, and so is the life sciences division of GE Healthcare. That seems to have been enough for the parent company solvent for now, but even a mild recession could force Culp to sell off additional assets.

    Eventually, GE will run out of assets to sell. Will the remaining Power, Aviation and Healthcare businesses grow enough to make up for the loss of revenue from other divisions that have been hived off? Or is GE a permanently smaller company with a permanently reduced ability to generate profits? That’s the risk that faces GE shareholders today.

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