Why GE Q2 Earnings Could Be Very Difficult to Interpret

General Electric Co. (NYSE: GE) is set to report earnings in the very early hours of Friday morning. The conglomerate will be closely watched, but investors need to understand just how much the GE of today will be around in the months and quarters ahead. The end result is that interpreting GE earnings and factoring in guidance could be much more difficult for the next few quarters.

A $17 billion purchase of Alstom assets in Europe is one thing, but divesting its U.S. consumer finance unit will be the biggest change the company has seen in many years — perhaps in lifetimes of many of us. Now we also have word that GE is again considering how to shed the consumer appliances unit, as it once tried back in 2008.

There is yet another wild card for GE, making four non-earnings issues that have to be kept in consideration. There has been speculation that Jeff Immelt may retire as CEO and chairman sooner than the markets had originally expected.

Investors have often said “as goes GE, so goes the economy.” The reality is that investors could face some difficulty in assessing how GE’s guidance will look ahead. GE wants to be valued as an industrial conglomerate with a higher earnings multiple than the market is willing to value it at today.

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The Thomson Reuters consensus estimates are $0.39 in earnings per share (EPS) and $36.3 billion in revenue. GE’s stock has seemed stuck, and its performance so far in 2014 is down more than 3%. Estimates for the coming quarter are $0.42 EPS and almost $36.8 billion in revenue.

Where the real discrepancy will come into play is how the company is evaluated after 2014, into 2015. Consensus estimates are $1.70 EPS and $148.6 billion in revenues for 2014, as well as $1.83 EPS and $149.35 billion in revenue for 2015. In short, GE is valued at 14.6 times next year’s earnings estimates.

GE shares were down 1.3% at $26.66 on a rough day for the markets in mid-Thursday trading. The conglomerate’s shares have traded in a 52-week range of $22.92 to $28.09, and the consensus analyst price target is $29.11. GE’s dividend yield is currently around 3.3%, making it among the best DJIA dividends — certainly for conglomerates. Is it fair to ask if that will remain the case after the consumer finance spin-off?

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Keep in mind that GE’s $268 billion market cap puts it in the top five stock of the S&P 500 index, but its very low stock price makes it ranked all the way down at 29 of 30 in the Dow, with only a 1.01% index weighting. All caveats aside, GE was recently named a “buy and hold forever stock” in an analyst portfolio.

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