It is no secret that this is the best bull market most investors have ever seen for buying stocks and equity indexes. What has been hard for many investors to fathom is not just that the bull market is nearing nine years old, but how strong it remains even this late in the game. Investors also have to remember that it’s a market full of stocks, and not all stocks do well all the time.
General Electric Co. (NYSE: GE) was the poster child of disappointment for the Dow Jones Industrial Average in 2017. Jeff Immelt’s reign came to an end, but the stock continued to bleed lower and lower, even after the news that John Flannery was replacing Immelt and was laying out his new plan for the troubled conglomerate.
24/7 Wall St. has evaluated a bullish and bearish case for the Dow with a baseline of 26,400 later in 2018. That may be a very low baseline, if the start of 2018 is an indicator, but the reality is that GE shares will have to recover handily to keep at least some of the good news coming for the Dow.
GE was the worst performing Dow stock with a total return of −44.8%, according to the Reuters year-end trading data. Keep in mind that the Dow and S&P have now more than tripled from their 2009 panic-selling lows, but in 2017 the Dow rose 25% and the S&P 500 rose by almost 19.5%. Those broad market gains greatly outpaced expectations that were forecast at the start of 2017, but GE’s overall expectations at the start of 2017 were far higher, with an expected gain of 10% rather than almost a 45% drop.
In a bull/bear outlook for General Electric in 2018, there is a lot that Flannery will have to do rather well to get this ship turned around. His plan should have been given a better baseline than it was, but frankly waiting from summer until November did not help matters — nor did the tone of the plan that was delivered. Some investors wonder if GE really will be all that much different ahead.
Wall Street strategists have weighed in on tax reform, broader earnings growth and higher growth of gross domestic product. All this has brought on higher forecasts for the broad market, but that has not exactly been a win for GE.
Dividend investors have seen Flannery cut GE’s dividend in half, and he has noted in 2017 that everything remains on the table and that GE is going to chop down some of its operations. That means GE could reduce the dividend further if the decision looks necessary. And GE likely still will have a hard balance sheet and income statement to analyze, even after it normalizes how it reports earnings.
With GE closing out 2017 at $17.45 a share, the consensus analyst target price from Thomson Reuters and the 2.75% dividend yield would generate an expected total return of 28.77%. That figure is way above the market expectations in general and actually would be the highest individual gain expected from all 30 Dow stocks.