Is GE Capital on the Verge of a Major Asset Sale?

ge-logo_old-newGeneral Electric Co. (NYSE: GE) may have come back handily from the recession and it may have the highest dividend yield of all major conglomerate stocks. That does not mean that Wall Street will keep endorsing the company endlessly at higher and higher share prices. There appears to be a growing thought that GE might be on the verge of a major asset sale, or sales, inside of GE Capital. The company itself wants to be valued as a true industrial giant rather than a conglomerate dominated by bank and finance operations. Recent actions by the firm make this effort more front and center rather than an issue floating on the periphery.

Bernstein was out with a note on Wednesday showing that GE likely has several consumer products up for grabs. The firm now thinks that GE could get as much as $20 billion depending upon what is sold and in what form, but the firm also noted that this could cut deeply into earnings per share. With GE’s effort to get an industrial valuation, perhaps a sale is more and more likely as time goes on.

One key development has taken place which we cannot sit idly by and not address as significant. Keith Sherin moved from GE’s CFO position over to run GE Capital as CEO. This is no minor reshuffling, and it is simple enough logic that the chief bean counter would be the best guy at trimming down the finance arm.

We reached out to one of the GE spokespeople today to see if anything new was afoot. GE’s spokesperson told us, “The last time we gave an update on this was Jeff Immelt’s presentation on May 22nd at the EPG conference. That is where we put out the new target of $300 to $350 billion for assets at GE Capital by the end of 2014.” After looking at the assets for GE Capital, the assets on an ex-cash basis were $418.6 billion at the end of 2012 and $402.1 billion at the end of the first quarter of 2013.

Our take is that Keith Sherin is going to move mountains to drive the GE Capital assets lower and lower. If he can make a big move all at once for a good price and early on after his new role, wouldn’t he do it? The trick is be able to do this in a manner that allows GE to keep its earnings high enough that it can still grow the dividend. GE also wants to shrink its share count down to 10 billion shares, which means that GE still has to be able to keep buying back stock as well.

Whether or not GE Capital has an asset deal coming any moment is not known, and the company is not going to openly share that. What is known is that GE has tasked Keith Sherin to shrink GE Capital. If you want to know why, it is simple: the big bank valuations are worthy of about 8 to 11 times earnings, while industrial stocks are worthy of being valued up at 15 (or more) times earnings.

At $23.98, GE currently is valued at about 14-5-times this year’s expected earnings but it out yields its conglomerate peers with a 3.2% dividend yield. We continue to expect that GE will raise its dividend at the end of this year, likely from $0.19 to $0.21 per share per quarter. GE closed down 1.4% at $23.98 and the 52-week trading range is $19.29 to $24.45. Analysts have a consensus price target of $25.53 for GE shares.

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