General Electric May Not Be Irrelevant After All: Barclays

 @natrudy
on November 20 2013 11:15 AM
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    A General Electric plant Reuters
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    General Electric (NYSE:GE) logo and CEO Jeffrey Immelt. Reuters
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This story has been updated.

After dismissing General Electric Company’s (NYSE:GE) stock last month as “irrelevant,” Barclays PLC (LON:BARC) analysts flipped and termed it a “more investible stock” in a research note sent out on Tuesday.

In October, the analysts argued that the industrial conglomerate’s unwieldy size and complexity, as well as its lack of initiative, made it less interesting than “nimble” rivals like Honeywell International Inc. (NYSE:HON) and Danaher Corporation (NYSE:DHR).  

Now, however, the analysts are more bullish about GE. Last Friday, the company revealed the details of a 2014 spinoff of its $53 billion consumer finance unit, at an investor day in Connecticut. The spinoff has been welcomed by many analysts, who see it as progress in GE’s plan to rely less on revenue from its financial businesses.

“Post-spin, we think GE stock could look like one of the higher-quality (and now much cleaner) ways to play the industrial infrastructure cycle,” wrote the Barclays analysts. “As long as GE gets bank earnings down below 30 percent of total earnings, our sense is shareholders will be happy.”

The analysts have an "overweight" rating on the stock, in a broader industrial sector they term "neutral," where the overall sector will neither outperform nor underperform. After the spinoff announcement, analysts raised their GE price target from $27 to $29 per share.

GE Capital, which owns the consumer finance unit the company is spinning off, contributes well over 40 percent of the company’s earnings. The consumer finance unit helps provide credit cards to North American shoppers, working with companies like Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (NYSE:WMT).

Parent company GE will schedule an initial public offering (IPO) of 20 percent of the unit in 2014, and then spin off the company to existing shareholders in 2015.

Analysts argue that a sale of the unit is the most likely ultimate outcome, which could net GE a nice premium. The unit is considered a “very high-quality business,” noted Barclays analysts. (It grew from $1.4 billion in 2010 profits to $2.2 billion in 2012.) It's unclear who might buy it at this stage.

William Blair & Co. analyst Nick Heymann, however, sees some downside in the interim as the company lets go of financial services revenue.

“The company’s net earnings growth is likely to be more challenging over the next couple of years until 2016,” he wrote in a company update on Monday. That’s because the company must wait for its remaining financial services units to grow again in line with the company’s industrial businesses.

Heymann is still happy about GE’s fundamentals, however, as the company’s industrial businesses expand margins and grow revenues, led by its oil and gas equipment business.

General Electric saw softness in second-quarter earnings, where its Power and Water business failed to meet expectations, after a first quarter also showed smaller-than-expected profit margins.

In the third quarter, however, the company bounced back, surprising analysts with strong profit margins and orders. UBS AG (VTX:UBSN) wrote after third-quarter earnings: “Many investors were cautious into 3Q results, and we believe expectations were fairly low. However, we do expect the stock to move higher into year's end.”

But GE is still a tough stock pick for many, thanks to its "extremely diverse business lines", said one trader at a New York hedge fund. "By buying the stock, I need to have a view on many different areas - energy, infrastructure, financial services, and more," he told IBTimes.

The company may be doing the spin off partly to edge away from the label of "systemically important financial institution," which regulators slapped on GE Capital in July. That label brings heightened regulatory requirements. The company didn't provide any regulatory updates on this front last Friday, and GE Capital is still deemed systemically important. 

The diversified GE operates financial, real estate, health care, energy and manufacturing arms.

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