Should GE Really Dump Its Appliances Unit?

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The General Electric Co. (NYSE: GE) operations of today are becoming far different from the old General Electric operations of the prior generations. The company is already in the process of dumping its U.S. consumer finance down to a very manageable level, with the hope that the conglomerate will be valued like an industrial conglomerate rather than a conglomerate tied to the risks of the Average Joe’s finance. Now we have word that GE may again be in the process of dumping its consumer appliances business.

24/7 Wall St. would caution readers that GE was looking to shed this unit before. The outfit is a century old, and GE tried to sell the unit back in 2008. If this occurs, consumers may no longer see the GE logo on ovens, stoves, washers and dryers, refrigerators and more.

News broke in the “according to sources familiar with the matter” on Wednesday. We would caution that this could greatly alter how the company’s second quarter earnings report is evaluated. If GE completes the Alstom S.A. unit in Europe for $17 billion and manages to unload the appliances unit and consumer finance unit, then investors and analysts are possibly going to have a hard time interpreting GE’s guidance.

With GE getting out of such a dominant consumer finance position, and now potentially the appliances unit, the GE of the last generation is potentially going to be a very different GE for the next generation.

When we interviewed Jeff Immelt and Keith Sherin in years past, GE always tried to focus on a 20% return on capital. Since then, the company has also said that it is more happy with the total portfolio of companies than it has been in years. GE’s appliance business is still profitable, but the unit’s margins are not where the company would like — close to $380 million of operating profit, only about 2% of the company’s entire profits.

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Will GE really dump its appliances unit? Maybe. It tried before, but the pesky recession got in the way. We have seen that GE aims to unload its lower priority units. It looks like the change inside of GE is not anywhere close to done yet.