Does this extraordinary disruption in the capital markets make my stock look fat?
That question has to be bothering General Electric (NYSE: GE ) shareholders today, as the stock continues to bounce around its five-year low. Weighing it at a robust $260 billion-plus in market cap, GE's very size suggests that it could have a tough time fulfilling its routine promises of year-over-year double-digit profits growth. Still more important to shareholders, the company's size makes it difficult to imagine the stock price resuming its upward rise of yester-decade.
So is it time to dump the stock and downsize to something with a bit more room to grow? Hardly.
You can glean evidence of GE's potential from the actions of some of the nation's best investors. One rising star, the Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE: BRK-A ) (NYSE: BRK-B ) -esque Markel (NYSE: MKL ) , has made GE its second-largest portfolio position. That's not the reason I recommended GE on Motley Fool CAPS, of course, but it does reinforce my own thinking -- which basically goes like this:
GE is profitable
GE's financial arm suffered a setback from the aforementioned "extraordinary disruption in the capital markets" last quarter, no doubt. But if you pull back from the quarterly view and take a gander at GE in its entirety for all of last year, I think you'll see something amazing. The whole idea of conglomerates like GE and similar megacorps such as Citigroup (NYSE: C ) , Philips, or Siemens (NYSE: SI ) is that they're internally diversified. When one segment hits a rough patch, the company can count on the others to pull the laggard over the hump.
But at GE, all six of the company's major divisions pull their own weight -- and they rake in operating margins in the mid-teens or higher.
GE is growing
So GE's existing businesses are profitable. But what's the company doing to grow those profits? Let me just sketch out for you a few of the GE business lines that I expect will produce beaucoup profits in our globally warming, oil-depleted world:
- Water: GE is No. 2 in the quickly rising field of water treatment, and it's working hard to grow toward No. 1, through projects such as opening Africa's largest seawater desalinization plant.
- Nuclear: It's a race to see which we can use up faster -- fresh drinking water, or oily sludge. Whether we've reached the tipping point already, I do not know. But one thing's for sure: I don't see many dinosaurs dying and getting squished into goo these days, so chances are we're pulling more oil (and gas and coal, for that matter) out of the ground than we're putting back into it. And GE is one of the leaders in that most atomic of alternative-energy sources.
- Wind: GE's also placating folks with a fear of energy sources that cause babies to glow green. If nuclear's not your bag, then GE's just as happy to sell you some windmill parts. The company's already among the world's largest vendors of wind turbines.
Sure, it may take some time for these businesses to grow to a size worthy of GE. But while we wait for the inevitable to become actual, GE's paying a tidy 4.6% dividend for our patience.
GE is cheap
Now wrap all that up in a stock with a beaten-down share price, a AAA-rated balance sheet, and growth expected at 11% per year over the next half-decade. What's that tell you?
GE's not fat. It's just big-boned.
If you agree, then head on over to Motley Fool CAPS, and say a few kind words about GE.