I worked for General Electric (GE) from 2006 through early 2009. The company I left is nowhere near what the company is today — and I mean that in a good way.
I left a company that was reeling from the credit crunch fallout; GE Capital was truly an 800-pound gorilla, and its problems — a $32 billion loss on a bloated overleveraged balance sheet — cost me and others (now this really is full disclosure) not only our jobs, but the dividend on our stock holdings as parent company GE cut its dividend to save cash.
Now, though, with the company reinstating its dividend early last year (which led me to purchase shares) and the recent announcement that a restructured GE Capital will send $6.5 billion in dividends upstream to the parent company, GE is in great shape for long-term stock investors.
What’s interesting is how it got here … and what its future plans portend for investors.
If you want to place most of the blame somewhere within a company that is the only remaining original Dow Jones Industrial component still in the index, put it on GE Capital. A business segment originally designed to help move appliances, the unit had 7,000 employees and $10 billion in assets in the late 1970s.
By 2008 the company was by far the largest equipment lessor in the country, and it was a machine — pumping out nearly half of GE’s profits and occupying a $600 billion asset line on the balance sheet.
It was also a disaster waiting to happen.
And so the financial crisis hit. GE Capital was forced to radically downsize, get in line for government guarantees and take money from Warren Buffett — all of which led to a dividend cut at the parent level and a loss of GE’s golden “AAA” credit rating.
Which in some ways gets us to today: GE Capital is a smaller entity after shrinking assets by a third. And it’s focused on spending more time and effort on mid-level lending. What’s more, CEO Jeffrey Immelt looks to downsize it further, with a goal of a $300 billion to $400 billion in assets footprint.
Indeed, a recent report in The Wall Street Journal suggested Immelt may sell off parts of the unit in order to continue streamlining what, even after downsizing, would be the country’s fifth largest bank in terms of assets.
Immelt has rebuilt his house by slowly gutting it. He invokes corporate-speak when he tells analysts GE will pare down or sell off “noncore” businesses and assets, but he means it — Immelt sold off NBC Universal, Business Property Lending (a commercial real estate debt servicing division) and other smaller mortgage businesses and real estate holdings.
Immelt’s goal is to get his company to generate 70% of its profits from the industrial side, up from its current 54%, and he’s staking the growth on some a pretty specific initiatives:
- Shale gas: Immelt wants GE’s Oil and Gas division to take a leadership role in shale extraction, or fracking, and will sink billions of dollars into the technology and equipment needed for the extraction process. GE’s decision to purchase Lufkin (LUFK), a supplier of lift products and pumps for the oil and gas industry, is a step in that direction. GE won’t actually drill for the gas, but it expects to become a major player in the technologies that make it happen.
- Advanced manufacturing: GE is moving toward “insourcing” — essentially making products once again instead of outsourcing the manufacturing. Last year GE started to make water heaters at its Appliance Park facility in Kentucky, its first new product line in 50 years. The facility, which at one point was targeted for shutdown, is once again ramping up for appliance growth.
- Green initiatives: Perhaps Immelt’s biggest brainchild is GE’s focus on Ecomagination, which covers everything from solar panels and wind turbines to water management and technology solutions for the trucking and aviation industries aimed at reducing gas and jet fuel usage. Immelt made the “green” program a centerpiece of GE’s long-term planning, and I believe he’s way ahead of the curve on this one.
And of course, GE is still a leader in rail, aviation, healthcare — and yes, appliances. All of which makes for a still-robust industrial company, and this time it’s one that won’t have the Capital division’s massive scale weighing on results.
And now the best part: Immelt wants to reward me for coming back! A dividend that was cut to 10 cents a quarter in 2009 is now a very nice 19 cents … hopefully back on the way toward the 31 cents share it was before the divvy cut (and appreciably higher over the next 10 years).
At the same time, Immelt is keeping a floor under the equity by buying back shares. InvestorPlace‘s Kyle Woodley took a long, hard look at that particular brand of reward, and believes the program will continue for the long term, helping to boost my expectations of a rewarding dividend — and fueling copes of capital appreciation.
Bottom line? I’m very happy to be back in the GE stock fold. I made the decision to get back in based on the business plan, my belief in Immelt’s ability to execute on the plan, and a firm conviction that those increasing dividend checks will last me right through retirement.
So far, so good on all those fronts.
Marc Bastow is an Assistant Editor at InvestorPlace.com. As of this writing he is long GE.