Is GE Really Dead Money?

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A downgrade of General Electric Co. (NYSE: GE) shares today by analysts at J.P. Morgan has pushed the shares down more than 2%. Morgan’s analysts called the stock “dead money near term” based on the company’s lower earnings growth in its industrial segment.

The analysts’ call seems to be a safe bet, given the low growth anticipated in global GDP for 2013. Last week the International Monetary Fund forecast global growth at 3.3%, just better than flat with the 3.2% growth in 2012.

In 2012, GE’s European revenues fell from $29 billion in 2011 to $27.4 billion, the second year in a row that the company’s revenues fell by more than $1 billion in Europe. Every other geographic region posted flat or slightly better sales in 2012. Europe is GE’s second-largest source of sales and a continuing decline there is a serious problem.

The IMF still believes that emerging nations will drive the global economy in 2013 and GE’s performance in its Pacific Basin region during 2012 saw revenues there grow by $1.3 billion, enough to offset the decline in Europe. Combined with revenue growth of $600 million in the U.S., the two regions pushed GE’s total 2012 revenues $100 million higher than in the previous year. That’s not a compelling growth figure on revenues of more than $147 billion.

In its first-quarter earnings report GE said it would buy back a total of $18 billion in stock during 2013, which totals to about 8% of its outstanding stock. But as with all buybacks, one has to wonder whether ordinary shareholders will see an 8% boost in the value of their stock.

GE’s shares rose nearly 18% last year, after losing about 2% the year before. But from a peak of more than $40 in late 2007, though, shares are down nearly 50%. Year to date the shares are up just 1%.

On the positive side, the company’s backlog at the end of the first quarter was a record $216 billion, it still pays a dividend yield of 3.5%, and its forward price-earnings ratio is about 11.5. So there is value there, even if the J.P. Morgan analysts are right and the share price falls to $22.

For growth investors GE hasn’t been a real choice for a fairly long time. For value investors, however, the stock’s dividend yield is still attractive and if the company can turn that backlog of orders into cash flow and profits, some stock price appreciation is also on the table

GE’s shares are down about 2% at $21.31in mid-afternoon today in a 52-week range of $18.02 to $23.90.

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