Beyond GE Earnings, Long-Term Clouds Remain on the Horizon

The investing community has gone through its share of being for and against conglomerates. It sounds great that some industries can perform well to act as an offset while other industries are suffering. The reality is that if there are too many operations which are cyclical and depend on good economies, then being diversified is not as diversified as it may seem. General Electric Company (NYSE: GE) is about to report earnings, but its woes go way beyond earnings during the 2020 recession.

GE’s consensus estimate from Refinitiv is calling for -$0.10 in adjusted earnings per share for the second quarter of 2020, and if GE is brave enough to offer very specific guidance (unlikely) it is expected to post only a -$0.01 EPS reading for the third quarter. Again, the state of GE is just not an earnings story at the current time.

Refinitiv’s consensus estimates for GE are only $0.09 EPS in 2020 and then recovering to $0.40 EPS in 2021. That would still be only about two-thirds of its adjusted $0.65 EPS from 2019. GE is nearly a $7.00 stock, and while that may sound cheap against its 52-week high above $13.00 it is just hard to say that GE is “cheap” in expected earnings multiples.

One key issue is that GE has had such a long history of ups and downs, and then a prolonged period of downs becoming the norm, that many investors just do not have faith the GE’s model is the best way to go forward. GE’s portfolio is so hard to keep up with that many investors simply do not really know how to describe GE. The conglomerate has had troubles with its energy and power units, and GE’s aviation unit is suffering as the airlines are suffering.

GE had already forecast that it would burn about $3.5 billion to $4.5 billion in the second quarter. That’s after a burn of about $2.2 billion in the first quarter of this year.

Wall Street still likes Larry Culp and his history of getting things done, but Mr. Culp’s leadership has been challenged by an economic dilemma of customers not wanting to buy or not being able to buy like they did before the recession. International trade issues may just be one more issue of uncertainty, and it remains to be seen if a weaker dollar will help GE when some of its operations are not operating at full capacity.

Where GE’s real dilemma took shape is that its turnaround when the economy was strong just did not fully materialize. And making a solid turnaround of operations in a recession when they were not performing harmoniously during good times is a hard sell. The conglomerate’s aviation unit went from solid to weak as the coronavirus spread shut down all forms of travel.

One bright spot might be GE’s healthcare operations. The COVID-19 pandemic may have juiced demand for some of its products, but many companies have had to confess in recent months that other aspects of their business have suffered during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Making predictions about how GE will react to earnings may not be a very solid bet. This is a story where investors are either long-term believers or where they are long-term doubters. So far the doubters have been proven right based on how low GE has gone and how many attempts its stock rallies have failed.

Another issue may prove to be only mechanical, but GE only recently changed its auditing firm and that can sometimes create issues. GE did at least recently raise capital on the cheap to bolster its books.

The Refinitiv consensus analyst target price of $8.13 sounds great against a stock that is under $7.00, but many analysts have not updated their target price in weeks and when analysts do update their targets it’s generally lower rather than higher.

It is always possible that GE has some good things coming. That said, it just seems hard to get excited about the current conglomerate structure of GE when so many units are facing pressure that could last for much longer. Even if GE does better than expected it is still going to have many doubters that its turnaround is going to come screaming back with an immediate reputational recovery. Some of GE’s ongoing woes may not even be entirely all the fault of the company and the current management team, but that does not mean they are not their problems to fix.

GE was last seen trading up 3.5% at $6.95 on Tuesday, and its 52-week range is $5.48 to $13.26.