General Electric (GE) is scheduled to finally report third quarter earnings tomorrow. Wall Street is looking for earnings per share of 20 cents for the quarter on revenue of $29.94 billion.
I’m expecting that new CEO Lawrence Culp, the former CEO of Jubak Picks portfolio member Danaher (DHR), and a very well seasoned operations guy, will announce a kitchen sink quarter with big write downs and a savage cut or elimination of the dividend. In the long run, I think Culp is the right person to turn General Electric around and I think there’s good chance that the shares will be a good turnaround play sometime in 2019. But in the shorter run, the elimination of the dividend will would mean that those dividend investors still holding the stock–which does still pay 4.07% even after a huge cut to the dividend thanks to a 34.5% drop in the share price in 2018 through October 26–and those mutual funds that hold the stock but have rules against owning shares that don’t pay dividends will be sellers on the news.
With General Electric we’re looking at one of those moments, faced by Microsoft (MSFT) not so long ago where the near term share price depends on how quickly ownership of the stock transitions from one group of shareholders (dividend investors) to another (value investors.) (With Microsoft the shift was from growth investors to value investors and, now, back to growth investors.)
I hold General Electric in my Dividend Portfolio and with a further reduction in the dividend extremely likely, the stock no longer fits that portfolio. The position shows a 28.28% loss on share pice since I added the shares to the portfolio at $15.95 on February 3, 2012. The stock was trading at $11.44 as of 1 p.m. New York time on October 29.
One big question is how large a write down GE will take on its assets tomorrow. Wall Street analysts see a write down of at least $23 billion in the value of the company’s Power unit.
It tells you a lot about the degree to which Wall Street soured on past CEO John Flannery that the odds are that the more Culp writes off, the louder investors are likely to cheer. One of the criticisms of Flannery was that he was too tentative on selling money losing units. Wall Street decided that Flannery had lost the battle with General Electric’s conservative and relatively slow-moving corporate culture and it wants to see evidence the Culp will be able to power through the inertia.
At the beginning of October General Electric again lowered its free cash flow guidance for 2018 to $6 billion from the prior $6 billon to $7 billion. It’s likely that the company will lower projections for fiscal 2018 cash flow even further tomorrow–one reason for expecting a cut to the dividend.
In the conference call after earnings listen for evidence that Culp is moving fast enough to make Wall Street happy on selling its $1 billion portfolio of energy assets and on plans to address the huge potential write down in GE Capital Assets if the company can’t sell these assets–$156 billion at the end of the June 2018 quarter–at something like market value.
The tone–enthusiasm, skepticism, derision, etc.–of analysts on the call will be a good leading indicator of how quickly these shares might stabilize.