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The story at General Electric (NYSE: GE ) today seems to be: $5 billion down, $25 billion to go ... and not a lot of time to spend it.
So far this month, we've seen GE throw down the gauntlet in front of oil and gas equipment majors Schlumberger (NYSE: SLB ) and Halliburton (NYSE: HAL ) , invading their turf with its $3 billion buyout of Dresser. I've watched in horror as GE dove once more into the consumer finance well with its purchase of $1.6 billion in credit card receivables from Citigroup (NYSE: C ) . And I've noted -- this time with cautious optimism -- GE's $432 million in new investments to upgrade its home appliances division, a market the company had given up for dead two years back.
Now, with $5 billion spent out of the $30 billion it's promised to spend over the next two to three years, GE's gone shopping again. This time, it's moving in a direction of real growth: health care.
I see sick people
On Friday, GE announced it will ante up $580 million net of cash and investments to acquire all outstanding common and preferred shares of diagnostic equipment maker Clarient (Nasdaq: CLRT ) . The news is good for shareholders of Safeguard Scientifics, which has a 26% stake in the company, who will benefit from the 34% premium GE is paying for Clarient. But I'm not so sure the news is good at all for GE shareholders.
Clarient is a leader in "oncology diagnostic services." While diagnosing cancer is certainly, and sadly, a growth business, the question is whether there's enough growth here to justify the price GE is paying.
Consider: $580 million is 5.8 times more than Clarient's $100 million in sales over the past 12 months. Admittedly, Clarient is expected to grow quite a bit faster than GE proper over the next five years. Still, with GE's own price-to-sales ratio of just 1.1, it's hard to argue GE is getting any sort of bargain here. What it is getting, though, is two new competitors. And it's hard to imagine tougher rivals to tackle than the twin behemoths of diagnostic testing, Quest Diagnostics (NYSE: DGX ) and LabCorp (NYSE: LH ) .
Personally, I think GE is biting off more than it can chew, and overpaying for the meal. But what do you think? Tell me in the comments section below.