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OK, I realize that General Electric (NYSE: GE ) didn't exactly wow investors last week. Acknowledging an 18% decline in profits, reporting lower equipment sales, and making a big increase in reserves for its consumer finance division, the biggest name in American manufacturing lost 5% of its market cap post-earnings Friday, and the shares have continued to slide. Management isn't helping matters much, sending mixed signals as it promises to shrink the finance business even as it buys $1.6 billion worth of credit card debt from Citigroup (NYSE: C ) .
But the news isn't all shadows and gloom for the king of electric lighting. Yesterday, GE announced that it's going on a hiring spree, adding 500 new workers to its payroll, and investing $432 million in capital improvements as it burnishes the brushed aluminum on its vaunted appliances division.
Light at the end of the Recession?
Two years ago, at the Great Recession's nadir, GE made a startling announcement. After decades as one of the biggest names in appliance manufacturing, GE had decided to exit the appliances business. As it turns out, trying to sell refrigerators, microwaves, and dishwashers to a nation facing near-10% unemployment wasn't as easy a job as it used to be.
So GE put its appliances division up for sale, hiring Goldman Sachs (NYSE: GS ) to shake the bushes and try to find it a buyer.
But no dice. As luck would have it, GE couldn't find a buyer willing to pay its asking price. In 2009, the company did a double-take, reversing course on its sale plans, GE decided to take a sour economy and try to make lemonade. It began a program of $1 billion total investment in its appliances division, hired 1,300 new employees, and plotted to steal market share from the likes of Whirlpool (NYSE: WHR ) and Sears Holding's (Nasdaq: SHLD ) Kenmore division.
GE leads the way
On Oct. 8, the Conference Board published a survey of CEO sentiment in the U.S., showing that America's corporate bosses are more pessimistic about the economy today than at any point since Q1 2009. Of those surveyed, 78% thought the economy would stagnate or worsen over the next six months; only 22% saw prospects for improvement.
With GE publicly proclaiming a plan to invest $30 billion toward reinventing itself over the next two to three years, I think we can guess which camp CEO Jeff Immelt occupies.