General Electric Company Boosts Debt by $3 Billion in "Opportunistic" Move

GE taps into cheap and abundant money.

Mar 8, 2014 at 1:00PM

General Electric has about $300 billion in debt on its balance sheet, but that's not going to keep this cash-flush company from asking for another helping. And that's especially true in the midst of an attractive lending environment.

When GE announced it would issue $3 billion in additional debt this week, investors clamored to get their hands on it. According to The Wall Street Journal's sources, the order book for GE's bonds and notes was oversubscribed within 45 minutes of opening, and the total requests for GE's debt reached $11 billion.

That's impressive demand, even for a blue chip with a rating of AA+ from Standard & Poor's. For buyers, however, it's an opportunity that's not all-too-common, at least when it comes to buying bonds of the parent company. If you look closely at GE's balance sheet, most of the debt outstanding relates to its financial arm, GE Capital. Currently, GE Capital accounts for $210 billion of the $222 billion worth of long-term debt that appears on GE's balance sheet as of the 2013 year-end.

Such a substantial debt load, of course, is quite common for a banking operation. Consider that the top three companies with debt maturing in 2014 are GE, JPMorgan Chase, and Bank of America. In total, banks account for 58% -- $249 billion out of $427 billion -- of the total corporate debt maturities this year.

At GE, The sheer size of its banking arm makes it hard for analysts to gauge the company's debt burden relative to its peers. For example, the banking arm skews GE's debt-to-equity ratio such that it's nearly double the industry's at large, reflecting 1.7 versus the 0.9 average of its peers, according to Morningstar.

But in case you're wondering whether additional debt could be a burden on GE, fear not. Despite facing $35 billion in debt maturities this year, GE has plenty of flexibility to refinance if needed. Secondly, the company's interest coverage ratio, which determines how easily a company can pay interest, is a healthy 2.6 as of year-end. So long as a company hovers above 1.5, implying earnings (EBIT) that are one and a half times its interest expense, you can sleep sound at night as a shareholder.

In fact, shareholders might have reasons to praise the company's decision. Taking advantage of cheap money can provide GE with more ammunition with which to buy back shares, pursue acquisitions, or boost its already chunky dividend. As GE's spokesman Seth Martin noted, the issuance coincides with GE's "strategy to be opportunistic in accessing markets, particularly with interest rates at relatively low levels."

GE didn't specify exactly what the $2.25 billion in 30-year bonds and $750 million in 10-year notes would be used for, but investors can expect the recent buyback-dividend-acquisition trend to continue. In 2013, the company returned $18.2 billion in cash to shareholders through buybacks and dividends while completing $9 billion in acquisitions.

Source Flickr Jeffrey Turner

Source: Flickr/Jeffrey Turner.

So long as GE continues to put its cash to good use, shareholders should be OK with the company going back to a plentiful well for a refill every now and again.

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Isaac Pino, CPA, owns shares of General Electric. The Motley Fool recommends Bank of America and owns shares of Bank of America, General Electric, and JPMorgan Chase. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

4 in 5 Americans Are Ignoring Buffett's Warning

Don't be one of them.

Jun 12, 2015 at 5:01PM

Admitting fear is difficult.

So you can imagine how shocked I was to find out Warren Buffett recently told a select number of investors about the cutting-edge technology that's keeping him awake at night.

This past May, The Motley Fool sent 8 of its best stock analysts to Omaha, Nebraska to attend the Berkshire Hathaway annual shareholder meeting. CEO Warren Buffett and Vice Chairman Charlie Munger fielded questions for nearly 6 hours.
The catch was: Attendees weren't allowed to record any of it. No audio. No video. 

Our team of analysts wrote down every single word Buffett and Munger uttered. Over 16,000 words. But only two words stood out to me as I read the detailed transcript of the event: "Real threat."

That's how Buffett responded when asked about this emerging market that is already expected to be worth more than $2 trillion in the U.S. alone. Google has already put some of its best engineers behind the technology powering this trend. 

The amazing thing is, while Buffett may be nervous, the rest of us can invest in this new industry BEFORE the old money realizes what hit them.

KPMG advises we're "on the cusp of revolutionary change" coming much "sooner than you think."

Even one legendary MIT professor had to recant his position that the technology was "beyond the capability of computer science." (He recently confessed to The Wall Street Journal that he's now a believer and amazed "how quickly this technology caught on.")

Yet according to one J.D. Power and Associates survey, only 1 in 5 Americans are even interested in this technology, much less ready to invest in it. Needless to say, you haven't missed your window of opportunity. 

Think about how many amazing technologies you've watched soar to new heights while you kick yourself thinking, "I knew about that technology before everyone was talking about it, but I just sat on my hands." 

Don't let that happen again. This time, it should be your family telling you, "I can't believe you knew about and invested in that technology so early on."

That's why I hope you take just a few minutes to access the exclusive research our team of analysts has put together on this industry and the one stock positioned to capitalize on this major shift.

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David Hanson owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway and American Express. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway, Google, and Coca-Cola.We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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