Too Many Bears, Not Enough Bulls (GE in January 2018)

Looking at General Electric gets a little discouraging.

GE had a decent earnings report earlier this week, but that was quickly overshadowed by news of the Securities and Exchange Commission probe into its recent insurance charge. Still, the stock had managed to stay above $16 since they were released.

Analysts see a levered company with weak free cash flow levels and a management team stuck between a rock and a hard place.

MADISON.COM sees 4 Key Takeaways From General Electric Company Earnings: 2 Good and 2 Bad.

Having updated investors on its turnaround strategy on a presentation in November, it was important for CEO John Flannery to demonstrate that a line has been drawn in the sand, notably on its ailing power segment, but the fourth-quarter earnings report failed to do this.

the SEC is also investigating GE’s long-term service agreements (LTSA) and how the company books revenue on them. GE has LTSAs in place for things like servicing power plants and jet engines, and it has the right to payment for products or services transferred to the customer. When these payments are unconditional, they go on the balance sheet as receivables, but when they involve some other obligation (excluding time), they are called contract assets.

In the case of GE, the company has been growing its contract assets — meaning revenue and earnings are booked before the company receives cash — and the SEC is now looking into how GE has been doing this. It’s an issue investors’ attention was drawn to after the first quarter of 2017 saw a $1 billion shortfall in cash flow generation. The worry is that the SEC might rule that GE’s revenue reporting might have inflated revenue and earnings via its contract assets, particularly in its power segment.

Some of the nuances of GE’s first-quarter earnings were revealed on the January 16th press release regarding the aforementioned insurance charge. From that press release, investors already knew that GE’s EPS would come at the low end of guidance of $1.05 to $1.10, so it was no surprise when a figure of $1.05 was reported. On a more positive note, just as previewed on the previous press release, industrial cash flow from operations (CFOA) for 2017 came in ahead of guidance of $7 billion, but it was surprisingly strong at $9.7 billion, suggesting Flannery’s efforts to improve cash flow generation are already bearing fruit.

However, power markets had been described as continuing “to be challenging” on the press release, and CEO of GE Power Russell Stokes added on the first-quarter earnings conference call: “We believe that total gigawatts awarded will be even softer than we thought in December, coming in below 35 gigawatts in 2017.”

To put this into context, back on the second-quarter 2017 earnings call, former CFO Jeff Bornstein outlined expectations for the power market to decline to 40 gigawatts in 2017 — clearly, GE underestimated the weakness of the power market in 2017, and management continued to do so even up to December 2017. Stokes went on to outline that he was “working to accelerate additional restructuring efforts in 2018 to support a market that could be as low as 30 gigawatts,” and the full impact of weakening end-market conditions remains to be seen on GE’s power segment.

A key part of Flannery’s strategic plan is to focus the business on power, aviation, and healthcare. The good news is that orders in non-power segments continue to impress. In a nutshell, GE is going to need the healthcare’s strong cash flows and growth from its aviation segment in order to support its ailing power segment while management tries to restructure it.

On a headline basis, GE’s earnings came in pretty much in line with previous guidance. and there was no change to the 2018 outlook for EPS and cash flow. That’s relatively good news. However, the SEC investigation into contract assets is a concern, and power’s ongoing end-market deterioration suggests it’s going to take time to turn the segment around. Fortunately, aviation and healthcare continue to do well, and Flannery seems to be making progress on his aim to change the operational focus onto cash-flow generation.

Not much is going right for General Electric Co. these days. Except, that is, renewable energy.

The business is a rare bright spot: it’s one of only two GE units where revenue grew over the last four quarters.

Renewable energy was the fastest growing unit for GE over the last four quarters.

Today, for the first day in a long time, our Featured Image is aboit Renewable Energy!!!

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