General Electric Co. (NYSE:GE) is going nowhere fast. It is beginning a long restructuring journey that will take years to bear fruit and the outcome is uncertain. It is good that it has begun this long march, but it’s still one step in the journey of a thousand miles. If you buy GE stock today, know you’re taking a risk.
Trouble Ahead, Trouble Behind
At its Dec. 1 opening price of about $18.25 per share, GE is valued at $158 billion, with assets, net of debt, of about $242 billion. Operating cash flow that once averaged $50 billion per year has flat-lined and the once-generous dividend has been cut in half.
The good news is that CEO John Flannery has admitted to all the problems I detailed in my Nov. 13 story. He understands that GE has become a pale imitation of itself, that it sold financial and entertainment assets at their lows, bought energy and power assets at their highs. Traders are betting it will go still lower.
While Flannery has put in a good team and the company retains the lobbying clout of the country’s oldest industrial giant, it faces a long road back. The professionals who measure such things call GE stock a strong sell.
Smelling the Turnaround Early
So why are insiders buying? As Luke Lango noted this week, four insiders bought $56 million of GE stock during the last two weeks of November.
They see that total revenue only dropped slightly even while the power business was collapsing, that it can streamline and focus on what’s growing and turn around that sales momentum in 2018.
Insiders are seen as smart money and they’re picking up a bargain at its fair market value, at a time when imaginary assets like Bitcoin are trading at $10,000.
GE directors, however, can wait for their profit, and GE officers have an incentive to show their loyalty to the new boss. What is smart for them may not be smart for the average investor.
That’s because there are no quick fixes. The energy and power businesses are not growing, and GE could be running them at maximum efficiency already. The bull case for GE stock looks very political, dependent on relaxing of pollution standards and bigger military budgets, things that can change with voters’ appetites.
The strongest parts of GE, meanwhile, like GE Healthcare, which Flannery formerly ran, are moving into political headwinds as the Trump Administration takes healthcare demand out of the economy to deliver more capital to investors.
The Bottom Line on GE Stock
I am rooting for GE to succeed under John Flannery, but I’m not ready to put any money on it.
I believe Jeff Immelt was a charlatan who sold investors on the idea of technology while building a company dependent on rising prices for oil and gas. But less capital-intensive forms of energy, like wind and solar, continue falling in price, and governments outside the U.S. are increasingly negative on fossil fuels.
I can’t see GE advancing quickly if there’s a lid on energy prices, and increasingly there is. Make Flannery prove the turnaround before you buy it.
Dana Blankenhorn is a financial and technology journalist. He is the author of the historical mystery romance The Reluctant Detective Travels in Time, available now at the Amazon Kindle store. Write him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @danablankenhorn. As of this writing he owned no shares in companies mentioned in this story.