Did GE's Dividend and Conglomerate Structure Just Become More At Risk?

General Electric Co. (NYSE: GE) is in even worse trouble than some turnaround investors may have feared. Some investors may have expected the news, but the longer-term structure of the conglomerate now seems up in the air far sooner than what most investors would expect. And there is even a renewed dividend risk for General Electric, despite it cutting that payout in half in 2017. Even GE’s operating structure now looks further at risk.

General Electric is going to book a $6.2 billion after-tax ($9.5 billion pretax) charge against its fourth-quarter earnings, and the company is setting aside $15 billion over seven years for higher insurance reserves at its GE Capital unit. This is broken down as $3 billion as a statutory contribution in the first quarter of 2018 and approximately $2 billion annually from 2019 to 2024.

CEO John Flannery has now said that GE is reevaluating its strategy and its structure. He addressed shareholders in a conference call on Tuesday discussing how management is evaluating the best structure or structures for GE’s broad business portfolio in an effort to maximize the potential of its businesses.

While GE Capital will fund the contributions, the company further outlined that GE Capital will suspend its dividends to its parent company for the foreseeable future and that $3 billion of the planned GE Capital dividends to the parent are foregone. The result over the next two years will make GE Capital smaller, which the company maintains will be more focused and restore its capital ratios to appropriate levels.

At this point, does it matter that GE says there will be no impact to the GE industrial business and 2018 capital allocation plan? The supplemental data in the disclosures showed that GE’s nonoperating pension costs would detract $0.16 to $0.17 against earnings per share for 2017.

What hurts here is that GE still has exposure to long-term care insurance policies written by primary insurance companies and reinsured by North American Life & Health (NALH). Flannery even said that a charge of this magnitude from a legacy insurance portfolio in a run-off for more than a decade is deeply disappointing.

It is important to add up the sum of what John Flannery is saying here. GE is planning to keep its prior industrial capital spending, it’s taking $15 billion in charges over a seven-year period, and it’s still finding new disappointing exposure to long-term care that it exited years ago (policies sold between 1989 and 2006). GE further added in its presentation data that the power markets continue to be challenging and that it has another $1.6 billion of after-tax industrial portfolio-related charges including held-for-sale assets. What does all of this add up to for GE’s structure as a whole?

And if GE’s “structure, or structures” is up for grabs, then how safe is its dividend at this time? GE already cut its quarterly dividend payout to common shareholders to $0.12 from $0.24 last year. Is GE’s dividend even further at risk?

GE is not releasing its actual fourth-quarter earnings results until January 24. When Flannery was named as the replacement for CEO Jeff Immelt in the summer of 2017, the company’s shares dropped as GE said it would have a more formal business update at the November business review once Flannery had time to more deeply evaluate and outline the company’s strategy. That drop ahead of the new structure was followed by another drop after the structure due to the investment community wanting more than what GE delivered. Now GE is releasing these negative and cautious points ahead of earnings, and it seems hard to be excited about GE’s upcoming earnings report. Is this just more bad news on top of more bad news ahead?

GE shares were last seen down 3% at $18.19 on Tuesday morning, in a 52-week range of $17.25 to $31.45.

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