The industrial conglomerate General Electric (NYSE: GE ) reported second-quarter earnings that were in line with expectations on Friday. Analysts had forecasted $0.39 per share, and GE, citing a "generally positive" environment, hit the nail on the head.
Generally speaking, however, it was another ho-hum quarter on the financial side of things, but the company took some important operational steps toward a simplified and manufacturing-focused future. Thus far, it's been a not-so-graceful transformation from GE's banking-centric heyday, but management seems to be pushing and pulling on all the right levers.
Here are four key developments we learned more about on Friday:
1. Insight on the upcoming IPO: It's been some time since we heard much about the spinoff of GE's North American consumer credit card unit -- which will soon be called Synchrony Financial -- so management used the second-quarter conference call to fill that void. What we now know is that the prospectus has been filed, the IPO will happen by the end of July, and 15% of Synchrony's shares will be sold in the process. Thus, at the midpoint of the expected price range, this IPO will raise about $3.1 billion in capital. Assuming Synchrony's worth around $20 billion, this leaves GE with a stake worth $17 billion in the standalone company. Ultimately, GE wants to conduct a full split off in the latter part of 2015 once regulators give the go-ahead and the business has gained its footing. If you're a shareholder who believes GE has no business being a banker, that date can't come too soon.
2. The Alstom add-on: GE's management team has been straightforward when discussing the Alstom purchase, but it's nice for shareholders to hear once again why the $13.5 billion acquisition makes sense. GE CEO Jeff Immelt summed it up nicely: "By 2016, we expect this will add $0.06 to $0.09 per share and allow the Company to have 75% of our earnings from Industrial." Those are tangible goals to which we can hold Immelt and company accountable. As for the softer aspects of the merger, it will take time for the so-called "synergies" and increased "competitive capabilities" to take effect. But if Alstom is accretive to the bottom line in that magnitude, that's something shareholders -- including Warren Buffett -- can rejoice about.
3. GE Appliances might have a shortened shelf life: While I've made the case that GE needs to do more to reach everyday consumers, it sounds as if the company's thinking a little differently. After more than a century in America's kitchens, GE wants to shed its appliance business because of its razor-thin profit margins. The company went down this path in 2008, but it couldn't track down a buyer back then. Now, with GE Appliance contributing roughly 2% of its overall operating profit, management's decided that someone in the neighborhood must want its reliable-but-boring refrigerator and dishwasher operation -- even if it's for a drastically reduced price tag.
4. Shrinking HQ to boost the bottom line: The word "simplify" or some variation thereof came up eight different times during the conference call, so the process of streamlining and downsizing is high on the list of management's priorities. I believe GE's taking a page from its conglomerate peer Berkshire Hathaway to decentralize decision-making to the business unit level as much as possible. To be sure, GE will stop well shy of Berkshire's balance, simply because we're looking at an operating company versus a holding company. But it will no doubt save some coin in the meantime: GE's currently on track to reduce structural costs by $1 billion during 2014.
Despite some chaos, GE's humming along
Besides these noteworthy updates, GE reported results that indicate most of the businesses are on the right track. Health care and mining were laggards, to be sure, but double-digit revenue growth across all of the industrial operations is nothing to sneeze at.
Some might say that adding a megamerger to management's full line-up of IPOs and spinoffs was an unnecessary distraction. So far, however, Immelt and company are pulling off this balancing act just fine.
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