GE Gets Guaranteed

This week's been a thrill a minute at General Electric (NYSE: GE  ) . With various units of the company headed in different directions, shares of the big Connecticut-based conglomerate fell nearly 20% from the previous Friday's close through Thursday's midday trading.

Obviously, investors' primary focus remains on the still-dominant GE Capital, the company's huge finance arm. On Tuesday, The Wall Street Journal suggested that the $600 billion (assets) unit, which in 2007 accounted for almost half the company's earnings, demands a "quick, radical revamp." But fixing Capital -- like finance units everywhere these days, a bit of a loose cannon -- would involve a restructuring that, in the Journal's opinion, "needs to be big -- and to happen soon."

In the meantime, GE Capital has joined the ranks of American International Group (NYSE: AIG  ) , along with Fannie Mae (NYSE: FNM  ) and Freddie Mac (NYSE: FRE  ) -- and perhaps General Motors (NYSE: GM  ) and Ford (NYSE: F  ) -- in cozying up to public-sector backing. That means taxpayers like us might end up footing its bills.

It appears that GE Capital will participate in the federal government's debt-guarantee program, under which the government stands to back as much as $139 billion of the company's debt through the middle of 2009. GE thereby becomes the first company with meaningful industrial operations to join Uncle Sam's latest program.

In the meantime, the company's industrial units seem to be doing reasonably well. Because the company makes all manner of daunting, impressive, and expensive medical diagnostic devices, GE is making plans with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center to open at least 25 cancer clinics in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East during the next decade. The future for the company's energy infrastructure unit is harder to pin down, given the recent steep slide in oil and gas commodities.

In the meantime, GE's share price sits in the mid-teens, from close to $40 in the past 52 weeks. In my rarely tentative opinion, the stock is unlikely to justify Foolish attention until the company's managers become as serious about a "quick, radical revamp" of Capital as they are about increasingly availing themselves of governmental largess.

More than 10,500 Motley Fool CAPS players believe that GE is likely to outperform the market. Do you agree?

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Fool contributor David Lee Smith doesn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned. He does, however, welcome your questions or comments. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


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  • Report this Comment On November 13, 2008, at 4:41 PM, nkingsland wrote:

    GE was FORCED to access the FDIC guarantee program, the government having guaranteed the debt of GE's competitors, so that GE could no longer compete with these institutions in issuing new debt. This has much less to do with GE's financial condition than it is a result of the completely misbegotten, whack-a-mole policies of an idiot government that is creating more problems than it is fixing.

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