The news feeds are all a-flutter this week about how General Electric (NYSE: GE ) supposedly gamed the tax code to earn $14.2 billion in profits last year, then cash a $3.2 billion refund check from the IRS. The Daily Show's Jon Stewart is outraged. The New York Times, shocked. But at least somebody's happy that GE has some spare cash: The private equity investors who on Tuesday agreed to sell 90% of their shares in French energy concern Converteam Group SAS.
I'm sure it's only a coincidence that GE's purchase price for Converteam ($3.2 billion) precisely equals the amount of the tax refund check the IRS cut it last year. Still, it's a happy coincidence. Because, as you may recall, GE was supposed to be out of the energy investment business by now.
It said so, plain as day, just last month. After buying Dresser for $3 billion, laying out $1.3 billion more to acquire Wellstream Holdings, and swiping John Wood Group from under the nose of Halliburton (NYSE: HAL ) for a cool $2.8 billion, GE "called it quits" last month. Said it had built the "industry-leading drilling and production business" it wanted, and felt no need to expand further.
The rest of GE's $30 billion war chest, earmarked for acquisitions, would be funneled into other ventures -- such as the $1.6 billion it paid for from Citigroup (NYSE: C ) , the 25,000 electric cars it pledged to buy from General Motors (NYSE: GM ) and other auto manufactuers, and the $1 billion invested in its own sagging appliances division. Taking 'em at their word, I ventured to suggest that GE's next major buy would be in the medical technology field, perhaps by adding a Hologix (Nasdaq: HOLX ) because of its strong in-house x-ray department, or diversifying into other medical devices by buying Medtronic (NYSE: MDT ) .
Old habits are the hardest to break
Silly me. Given an extra $3.2 billion to play with, GE headed straight back to its old stomping grounds, and has bought itself another energy concern. There is something a bit different about Converteam, though. Unlike GE's other energy investments, this one's not an exclusively oil-and-gas play, but also a maker of power conversion equipment for the renewable power industry. Windmills, hydropower -- that's Converteam's real attraction, and it's an industry GE is well familiar with.
Importantly, GE is now backtracking on its "mission accomplished" statement, saying it's still looking for "good opportunities" in the energy industry -- and over on Fool.com, investors are starting to wonder if a power-line manufacturer like American Superconductor (Nasdaq: AMSC ) might fit the bill. What do you think? Scroll down and sound off.
Click here to add GE to My Watchlist.