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General Electric's Deal Is Offensive

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Has General Electric (NYSE: GE  ) learned nothing from The Crash?

When financial markets went to heck-in-a-handbasket back in 2008, companies that dipped their hands too deeply into the capital-markets honey jar found themselves stuck with billions of dollars' worth of bad loans. General Electric in particular ventured far afield in search of yield, and wound up writing down loan values and booking billions of dollars in losses. By early 2009, GE had lost its triple-A debt rating and slashed its dividend. Its stock traded in the single digits, as the company underwent a true near-death experience.

So naturally, just as soon as management got the ship righted, it ran off and bought $1.6 billion worth of Citigroup (NYSE: C  ) receivables. Crazy!

But sometimes, crazy-good
I'm not too impressed with the first half of GE's grand plan to return to "playing offense," as GE Energy chief John Krenicki put it yesterday. On the other hand, I do see some merit in GE's other move: a deal to buy oil-and-gas equipment maker and former Halliburton (NYSE: HAL  ) subsidiary Dresser from a pair of private equity shops, which have been running it since 2007.

The acquisition brings GE into greater competition with industrial giants like Emerson Electric (NYSE: EMR  ) and Tyco (NYSE: TYC  ) in the valves space. On the other hand, Dresser, which specializes in engines and control valves, strengthens GE's position relative to oil & gas incumbents Schlumberger (NYSE: SLB  ) and Baker Hughes (NYSE: BHI  ) .

More importantly, it looks like GE is getting the company at a really attractive price. With $2 billion in annual revenue, Dresser at 1.5 times sales will cost GE only a modest premium over its own 1.2 P/S ratio. Moreover, with $318 million in profits netted last year, Dresser boasts a whopping 15.9% profit margin. That's more than twice GE's own net profit margin, and it suggests that GE is more than getting its money's worth for that small P/S premium.

Foolish takeaway
GE Vice Chairman John Rice tells us he aims to spend $30 billion or so on similar deals over the next two to three years. Let's just hope we see fewer of billion-dollar credit gambles, and more strategically savvy purchases.

True to its name, The Motley Fool is made up of a motley assortment of writers and analysts, each with a unique perspective; sometimes we agree, sometimes we disagree, but we all believe in the power of learning from each other through our Foolish community.

Emerson Electric is a Motley Fool Income Investor choice, but Fool contributor Rich Smith does not own shares of any company named above. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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  • Report this Comment On October 09, 2010, at 8:13 AM, kdt34wqx wrote:

    The GE "conglomerate" business model went out of favor in the sixties as being unproductive. Wall street would like GE better if were sold off piece by piece as a way to create shareholder value. This would have the added benefit of getting rid of the present GE management. There are plenty of good managers out there who can run businesses successfully. They just don't work for GE.

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