General Electric Co. (NYSE: GE) was not among the major Dow Jones Industrial Average stocks loving the broad market gains most of Monday. It was among just a handful of the 30 Dow stocks that fell on an otherwise good day. More financial asset sale rumors have surfaced again, which could raise billions of dollars more for GE. While shares were barely down 0.5%, investors might have to wonder if a conundrum is developing as GE unloads more and more of its financial assets.
Could GE actually become too lean on the financial side of the equation?
Reports hit on Monday that GE was in early discussions with Wells Fargo & Co. (NYSE: WFC) about selling all or parts of its $74 billion commercial lending and leasing portfolio. While we might be fast to warn that such deals do not develop overnight, the last big asset sale came to fruition rapidly. Wells Fargo was also involved in the last round of financial asset sales.
What investors have to begin to at least consider is whether GE takes on too much industrial-only activity at once, as it moves to more of an industrial-only conglomerate rather than a bank and industrial conglomerate. This thought might sound silly on the surface, but GE’s share price has been drifting slowly lower since the restructuring caused such a large rally. In fact, GE’s common stock is now down almost 6% from its high of just two weeks ago, even after it was considered a kitchen-sink earnings report.
Could GE get so aggressive in selling financial assets that it actually hurts its own core revenues versus its most recent expectations? That remains to be seen. When evaluating GE, investors have to consider that GE has financed much of its sales by extending credit to business customers. Would the company get so focused on being an industrial force that it excessively minimizes its financing activity? That seems very unlikely, but it is at least fair to ask from an outside perspective.
While the finance assets being discussed for sale do not seem to be the ones affecting GE’s own sales, some investors might be considering whether they should rethink so much change at once. It is at least a concern that GE could end up accidentally throwing out the baby with the bath water.
While many investors may just want GE to get focused on its industrial activities as soon as possible, it is always a possibility that even a giant like GE might be taking on too much change at once and that its management teams might have a harder time adapting to. GE has suffered losses from it financing operations during parts of business cycles, but GE has also made lots of money acting as a key financial institution to retail and businesses alike.
24/7 Wall St. is not attempting to identify which assets pertaining to commercial lending and leasing might actually get sold. We just cannot help but wonder if the pressure for GE to sell off its financial assets could accidentally be hurting the company in the long term by the prices realized or by paring down too many assets and units without having time to adjust to the new industrial structure.
GE’s goal is obvious: it wants to be valued by investors and analysts as a purely industrial conglomerate. The market rewarded General Electric handily for its most recent efforts along that line. The other side of the coin is that the market has been tempering some of those rewards in more recent trading days.
GE shares closed down 0.8% at $27.02, which is the lowest closing price since that restructuring and financial asset sale news was confirmed. GE’s 52-week range is $23.41 to $28.68, and its stock has a consensus analyst price target of $29.92.
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