General Not-So-Electric

May 24th 2018
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What's going on here?

Shares in industrial conglomerate General Electric took yet another major tumble late on Wednesday following a downbeat announcement from GE’s CEO about its energy business. It’s the latest headache for what used to be one of America’s proudest companies.

What does this mean?

With links to Thomas Edison’s lamp and dynamo companies of the late 19th century that commercialized the incandescent light bulb, GE grew into one of America’s biggest and most prominent firms – a sprawling business spanning energy, aviation and computer manufacturing.

These days, GE’s facing a colossal debt crisis after questionably allocating its resources over the past 20 years. Wednesday’s nail in the coffin was that GE’s power generation units for fossil fuel plants – where it invested billions by acquiring Alstom’s turbine and grid businesses – are becoming increasingly obsolete in the age of renewables. Instead, major energy suppliers are looking to solar and wind power generation. GE said that revenues in its power unit this year will be less than half of what it forecasted.

Why should I care?

For markets: Some investors are saying they’ll never touch GE’s stock again.
GE’s stock has short circuited in the past eighteen months, missing out entirely on the 2017 stock market bonanza. It’s sold some struggling branches of the business to raise funds  – including its rail division for $2.9 billion on Monday – but investors seem to be focusing more on the negatives.

The bigger picture: GE and friends are slimming down.
Some investors think that GE can deliver more value back to shareholders if it sells off struggling parts of the businesses. Other conglomerates like Siemens, DowDuPont and Maersk have been acting similarly and focusing their businesses. But once the business sells, any future cash generation is then out of the company’s hands – something that might end up being more valuable than the sale price if it’s too low.