Up almost 52% year-to-date, General Electric (NYSE:GE) is undoubtedly one of 2019’s most impressive redemption stories among domestic equities. That’s quite the performance considering it wasn’t that long ago that once-beloved GE stock was left for dead.
There’s still plenty of work to be done after its two-year slump spanning 2017 and 2018. Time will tell whether or not CEO Larry Culp and team can successfully author more chapters to the comeback story. Over the near-term, however, it’s clear that the Wall Street consensus price target of $11.45 on GE stock may need to be revised higher given the stock’s recent price action. It closed just below that number on Friday, Dec. 13.
Even with all the good work Culp and team have done this year, Wall Street remains highly divided on GE stock with price targets ranging from $5 to $14. That’s one of the widest gaps investors are going to find on an $11 name. UBS analyst Markus Mittermaier is one of the analysts in the bull camp, having recently upped his General Electric price forecast to $14 from $11.50.
Mittermaier “sees GE earning about $1 a share by 2022 and Culp’s turnaround efforts take hold. That means shares could hit about $17 in 2021 based on comparable valuation multiples other industrial conglomerates,” reports Barron’s. “Don’t forget the market is forward looking and stocks tend to trade on future earnings. Paying $11 today for something which could be $17 in a couple of years works out to an average annual return of about 24%.”
General Electric’s To Do List
One area where GE could really foster some goodwill with investors is to continue whittling down debt. When Culp took over two years ago, the conglomerate was burdened with $135 billion in debt. That number has declined to $115 billion, still 15% above the company’s market value and well above earnings.
The trick for General Electric is finding a way to pare liabilities without giving up too much in the way of solid businesses. GE is in the process of selling its biopharma business to Danaher (NYSE:DHR) for $21 billion and it’s reducing its stake in an oil services partnership with Baker Hughes (NYSE:BHI). Although oil prices have dithered this year, analysts are growing bullish in Baker Hughes, which is good news for GE investors because the company still owns $8 billion worth of the oil services firm.
Recently, Goldman Sachs added Baker Hughes to its conviction buy list while Bank of America Merrill Lynch (BAML) put the stock on a comparable list.
“In a sector lacking near-term fundamental reasons to be enthusiastic, we see a structural bull case building for Baker Hughes,” according to BAML. “Especially as the energy sector enters a transitional period that focuses on (1) cleaner energy and lower emissions; and (2) digital transformation across all energy value chains.”
Last week, GE’s troubled GE Capital business completed the sale of its aviation lending business, PK AirFinance, to Apollo Global Management, Inc. That’s an incremental positive because as the company is currently structured, GE Capital is one of its biggest burdens. If asset sales of $10 billion in that unit are met this year and perhaps exceeded next year, that would be a boon for GE stock. It would get some risky assets off the books and the cash from the divestments can be used to pare debt.
As noted above, Wall Street is divided on GE stock and that’s not going to change before 2020 rolls around. That doesn’t mean the stock is a “sell” right now, but it does imply removal of the division into a bullish consensus (no guarantees of that happening) would be a big catalyst for the shares next year.
On a more practical level, GE stock would benefit from further efforts to reduce leverage and to reduce the scope of GE Capital. In the latter case, investors may have to deal with the company selling pieces at seemingly unfair prices just to improve the health of that business and the overall company.
As of this writing, Todd Shriber did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.