October 30, 2018 / 8:47 PM / a year ago

GE's demolished dividend shreds shareholders' safety net

NEW YORK (Reuters) - General Electric Co shareholders were dealt yet another blow on Tuesday.

FILE PHOTO: The General Electric logo is pictured on the General Electric offshore wind turbine plant in Montoir-de-Bretagne, near Saint-Nazaire, western France, November 21, 2016. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe/File Photo

The U.S. industrial conglomerate said it would restructure its power unit, and said it faced a deeper accounting probe as new Chief Executive Larry Culp moved to try to revive the struggling company.

GE shares were down 10 percent, dropping below $10 to touch their lowest point since early 2009. Shares of GE, which was booted from the blue-chip Dow Jones Industrial Average earlier this year, are now down more than 40 percent this year and have lost two-thirds of their value since the end of 2016.

For longtime shareholders, Tuesday’s third-quarter report delivered another bitter pill. Cash-needy GE all but eliminated its quarterly dividend, slashing it to a penny a share from 12 cents.

The dividend cut marks a major shift for GE, whose shares regularly offered a higher dividend yield than the S&P 500 for about the past 15 years.

GE’s $4.17 billion dividend cut is the eighth largest in the history of S&P 500 companies, according to Howard Silverblatt, senior index analyst at Standard & Poor’s.

GE also holds title to the largest dividend reduction, according to Silverblatt, for its $8.9 billion cut in February 2009 during the throes of the financial crisis, when Jeff Immelt was CEO.

GE also lays claims to the ninth spot for dividend reductions, for the $4.16 billion cut made about a year ago under recently departed CEO John Flannery. That gives GE three spots in the top 10 for Silverblatt’s list of biggest-ever cuts.

At its peak, GE lavished shareholders with more than $12 billion a year in dividends. Next year it will pay out less than $500 million.

GE’s once-fat payout helped cushion shareholders from the stock’s rocky performance. Over the past decade GE shares have slumped nearly 50 percent, but its total return, including reinvested dividends, was just negative 26 percent.

Now shareholders will no longer be able to bank on the safety net of a rich dividend.

 Once the biggest U.S. company by market value, GE’s market capitalization fell below $90 billion on Tuesday, less than one-sixth of its level in 2000.

The declining market cap means the influence of the one-time economic bellwether on the benchmark S&P 500 has also fallen dramatically. Its impact in the S&P 500 now is less than 1/10th that of the influence of Apple, the biggest U.S. company with a market value eclipsing $1 trillion.

 On Tuesday, GE reported a loss of $22.8 billion for the third quarter, as it wrote down $22 billion in goodwill because promised profits from its power unit are now unlikely.

GE did not cut its earnings forecast for the year from the most recent $1.00 to $1.07 per share.

But analysts are bracing for another decline in annual earnings, according to Refinitiv data, which would continue a steady decline for GE’s earnings.

Reporting by Lewis Krauskopf and Dan Burns; Editing by Leslie Adler

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