October 30, 2018 / 10:45 AM / 17 days ago

General Electric reveals deeper regulatory probe, restructuring

(Reuters) - General Electric Co slashed its dividend on Tuesday, said it faces a deepening federal accounting probe and vowed to restructure its power unit, as new Chief Executive Larry Culp took his first steps to revive the struggling conglomerate.

GE said the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and Department of Justice had expanded investigations to include the $22-billion writedown of goodwill from the power division that the company reported on Tuesday. GE shares slid on the New York Stock Exchange, touching their lowest in more than nine years.

The company posted a staggering loss of $22.8 billion in the third quarter, among the largest in U.S. corporate history. The 126-year-old company, once the most valuable U.S. corporation, has announced more than $40 billion in writedowns and charges in less than a year.

Culp, who took over on Oct. 1, said GE will significantly miss its full-year cash flow target of about $6 billion. He said he could not estimate full-year results until he gets more detail about the ailing power unit, which lost $631 million in the third quarter.

GE all but eliminated its quarterly dividend, cutting it to a penny from 12 cents a share to conserve about $4 billion in cash and strengthen the balance sheet. Analysts viewed that positively, relieved that Culp said there were no plans to raise equity capital as some had feared.

“My priorities in my first 100 days are positioning our businesses to win, starting with Power, and accelerating deleveraging,” Culp said in the results statement.

GE shares closed down 8.8 percent at $10.18.

NEW POWER STRUCTURE

In June, former CEO John Flannery, who was on the job for just 14 months, said GE would pare its portfolio to jet engines, power plants and renewable energy by disposing of its healthcare and Baker Hughes units, along with other restructuring already in the works.

On Tuesday, Culp said GE will put its gas turbine equipment and services businesses in a new unit. Analysts said this probably foreshadows the sale of other assets such as coal and nuclear power plants and power grids.

GE added much of that in 2015 with a $10-billion acquisition of power assets from Alstom SA (ALSO.PA), saying it could boost margins and profits. But profits fell as demand for fossil fuel power plants slowed in response to cheaper solar and wind systems. Power services faced stiff competition, and declining use of large power plants has reduced repair revenue.

GE wrote down $22 billion in goodwill in the latest quarter because promised profits from power are now unlikely.

“They are acknowledging that it is not going to turn around in a hurry,” said Paul Healy, a professor at the Harvard Business School who focuses on corporate financial reporting.

GE’s $22.8 billion loss compared with a $1.3 billion profit a year earlier. Historically, the loss was topped only by losses during the 2008 financial crisis at insurer AIG and oil company ConocoPhillips, according to I/B/E/S data from Refinitiv.

FILE PHOTO: The logo of General Electric is shown at their subsidiary company GE Aviation in Santa Ana, California, U.S., April 13, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo

INVESTIGATION DEEPENS

GE has said it learned of regulatory scrutiny last November, when the SEC said it was investigating GE’s accounting for long-term service agreements. That inquiry expanded to include a $6.2 billion charge and $15 billion in reserves GE announced in January.

On Tuesday, GE said the probe now includes accounting that led to the $22 billion goodwill write-off. The U.S. Justice Department also is investigating GE’s mortgage-backed securities transactions during the housing bubble.

This month, a shareholder lawsuit alleged GE hid liabilities from long-term care policies and used fraudulent accounting in its power business to boost results artificially. GE has moved to dismiss the claims.

GE’s per-share loss was $2.63 versus 16 cents profit a year ago. Revenue declined 4 percent to $29.6 billion. Adjusted earnings fell to 14 cents a share from 21 cents a year ago. Analysts had expected 20 cents a share, according to Refinitiv data.

Orders at the power division fell 18 percent and revenue fell 33 percent in the quarter.

“The only way out of this mess is to restructure power,” said Scott Davis, analyst at Melius Research in New York. “It will bottom eventually.”

GE did not cut its full-year earnings forecast as some had expected, but a spokeswoman said the company would not hit the most recent target of $1.00 to $1.07 per share. Analysts have cut estimates for adjusted earnings to 88 cents a share, on average, according to Refinitiv data. The GE spokeswoman said the company was not yet providing new targets.

“I just don’t think Larry has his hands around this fully yet, enough to put his stamp of approval on guidance,” Davis said.

Credit agencies have cut GE’s ratings, increasing its debt costs and its financial challenges, which had prompted talk among analysts that it would issue stock to raise capital.

Additional reporting by Rachit Vats in Bengaluru, Michelle Price in Washington, D.C., and Sinead Carew in New York; editing by Patrick Graham, Nick Zieminski and David Gregorio

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