General Electric Co. (NYSE: GE) has been the worst performing stock of all 30 Dow Jones Industrial Average index members. The conglomerate has seen its stock drop by about 22% so far in 2017, and it has frankly been nothing short of what Gordon Gekko would have called “a dog with fleas” in the original Wall Street movie. GE’s declining stock has been preceded by many disappointments, and now GE is set to embark on a new period with a new chief executive officer and with a new board chair.
While many analysts have trimmed expectations, two analyst research reports hit on Thursday, October 5, 2017 that may outline some problems and come with some risks ahead. But both research reports also called for GE’s stock to have considerable upside.
One analyst report came from the well-known Credit Suisse. The other came from a new research outfit with a bold longer-term outlook than just 2017 or even 2018. So far, GE’s stock has not reacted as though the outlooks are positive — even though the actual market is up and challenging all-time highs and even though the upside still could be significantly higher than the consensus expectations.
General Electric was maintained as Outperform by Credit Suisse’s Julian Mitchell. The firm’s official price target was also cut to $30 from $33 in the report.
There was a right-sizing in Credit Suisse’s forward estimates on earnings per share: to $1.52 from $1.63 for 2017, to $1.54 from $1.80 for 2018 and to $1.69 from $2.00 for 2019. The Credit Suisse down-sizing of expectations cited weakening power generation trends, higher restructuring costs, reduced share buybacks and accounting changes related to GE’s LTSA.
The firm is expecting that new appointed CEO John Flannery will rebase the earnings expectations for the 2017/18 period at the November 13 meeting rather than during the third-quarter earnings release due in October. The feeling here is that the stock may rerate if investors become comfortable thinking that the 2018 earnings projection will become the floor.
Credit Suisse feels that GE does have remedies for its power unit, and it even feels that the stock can work despite a sluggish power market outlook. That Credit Suisse note said:
We believe management will be able to highlight improving free cash flow in 2018, and bottoming earnings per share in 2018, which should support the stock. The higher free cash flow should mean the dividend yield starts to return towards its recent average of 3.3%, which would imply a fair value of $29 to $30. If investors become comfortable that 2018 earnings per share is the floor, helped by aggressive restructuring, and we hear more clarity on plans to increase cash conversion in businesses such as Power, we think the stock will re-rate; many of its long-cycle infrastructure equipment peers trade at approximately 20-25X P/E, off far from depressed earnings (which we think GE’s are).
Credit Suisse also changed its longer-term upside and downside targets, its Blue Sky and Grey Sky scenarios. The firm’s Blue Sky scenario target went to $35 from a prior $44, and the Grey Sky scenario went down to $24 from $27.
If you are going to start a new research firm, there may be pressure to come out with a bang or at least with some controversy. Scott Davis, a former Barclays analyst covering industrials, has just started a firm called Melius Research.
GE was given a top-notch Buy rating here in the Melius call, but Davis was critical of Jeff Immelt and the current board of directors. Still, with Flannery as CEO, Davis sees GE shares rising to $35 two years from now. He sees big gains if GE can deliver on its cost-cutting measures. The next hurdle is for GE to get past the November earnings reset, where the company lays out new plans and new targets. Davis admitted that he has been wrong about GE before, and he called out a rival analyst call from JPMorgan.
Before getting too gung-ho on GE, note that Melius stated that it’s not a cheap market and also that the multi-industry sector is not cheap. Still, he sees plenty of opportunities and noted that a solid upcycle is underway that is only about 25% played out.
GE shares were last seen trading down 0.33% at $24.40 on Thursday. GE’s 52-week trading range is $23.58 to $32.38, and its consensus analyst target price from Thomson Reuters is now down at $28.07.
To illustrate just how much sentiment has gone against GE: its consensus target price was $29.31 just 30 and 60 days ago and was up at $32.14 back in early July. A further illustration of just how bad GE’s drop of more than 20% has been in 2017: analysts were calling for upside of about 7% at the start of this year. A lot has happened since then.