For one week following the announcement that General Electric Co. (NYSE: GE) CEO Jeff Immelt will be replaced on August 1, the company’s stock climbed about 5% higher. Then reality struck and the stock gave all its gains back.
But not before short sellers had piled into the stock. In the two-week reporting period ending June 15, short interest in GE rose 19.4% to 107.9 million shares, equal to 1.2% of the company’s total float. Days to cover remains at two.
Immelt, who is 61 years old, has been GE’s CEO for 16 years after replacing Jack Welch. John Flannery, 55, will replace Immelt, who will remain as chairman until he officially retires in December.
GE’s stock price has added about 2% over the past two years, far below the performance of the Dow Jones Industrial Average (up 19.3%) and the S&P 500 (up 16.05%). Competitors like United Technologies Corp. (NYSE: UTX) and Honeywell International Inc. (NYSE: HON) posted gains that were double those of the indexes.
Immelt has presided over a refocusing of GE’s business on its industrial divisions. The company has divested virtually all its financial business, once the crown jewel, but a drag since the financial crisis struck in 2008 and 2009. Immelt also sold the company’s NBC Universal business to Comcast Corp. (NASDAQ: CMCSA) in a deal that was widely viewed as a win for Comcast.
Activist investor Nelson Peltz’s Trian Management paid $2.5 billion for a stake of less than 1% in GE, but it was enough to get the company to pay attention to him. At the time of the stock buy, Peltz said GE stock should reach $45 a share by the end of 2017 following divestitures and buybacks. That is not going to happen.
In the end, Immelt couldn’t lift the share price and it cost him his job. Short sellers took advantage of the short-lived burst following his resignation and swooped in for what looks to be about a 4% profit in less than two weeks.
GE stock closed at $27.61 on Monday, up nearly 0.2% for the day in a 52-week range of $27.10 to $33.00. The stock’s 12-month consensus price target is $31.53, according to MarketWatch.