The stock market opened the week on a negative note, with slight declines on Monday morning for most major benchmarks. The focus among many investors continues to be on trade, and barring an improvement in the mood between the U.S., China, Europe, and other key trading partners, market participants don't seem willing to get much more optimistic about the future than they have been. As of 10:45 a.m. EDT, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES:^DJI) was down 79 points to 26,495. The S&P 500 (SNPINDEX:^SPX) fell 7 points to 2,945, and the Nasdaq Composite (NASDAQINDEX:^COMP) lost 7 points to 7,975.
Among individual companies, General Electric (NYSE:GE) has worked hard lately to try to turn its business around, and a new announcement shows the impact its efforts could have on workers. Meanwhile, General Motors (NYSE:GM) continues to face labor issues of its own as the United Auto Workers strike against the Big Three automaker goes into a fourth week without any resolution in sight.
GE puts on the big freeze
Shares of General Electric were down less than 1% Monday morning after the industrial giant announced its latest move to control its costs. The industrial conglomerate hopes to cut pension deficits and overall debt levels through its three-part strategy.
The first part of the strategy is the toughest for workers. Effective Jan. 1, 2021, the company will freeze its GE Pension Plan offering for 20,000 employees with salaried benefits, along with supplementary pension benefits for 700 employees. Instead, it will make profit-sharing and matching contributions to employee 401(k) accounts. New employees will qualify for a new defined contribution plan.
GE will also offer a lump-sum payment option to 100,000 former employees who haven't yet started getting pension benefits. Finally, the company will pre-fund about $4 billion to $5 billion in funding requirements under pension law for 2021 and 2022.
All told, the moves should help GE keep deleveraging its balance sheet. The company estimates pension deficits will fall by $5 billion to $8 billion, while net debt for the industrial division will decline by $4 billion to $6 billion. However, GE's decision could hurt many workers further -- especially given that the drop in the stock price has had a massive impact on those current and former employees who also took significant positions in GE shares as they fell.
GM labor talks face a setback
Shares of General Motors fell about 1% Monday morning. The automaker has dealt with the difficulties involved in having tens of thousands of workers off the job for a while now, but its efforts to negotiate with the United Auto Workers labor union still appear to be far from reaching an agreement.
The UAW went on strike more than three weeks ago, and negotiators on both sides have sought to work toward an eventual deal. However, a recent status report from union officials pointed to a step backward in negotiations over the weekend, as union leaders complained that GM had essentially reverted to a previous proposal that failed to address key concerns among workers.
The strike has already had a big impact on General Motors' operations. Last week, the automaker closed down the truck factory in Mexico that's responsible for production of the popular Chevy Silverado pickup. The plant was suffering a shortage of parts to go into its vehicles, stemming from the work stoppages at U.S. factories.
Workers remain adamant that they deserve a larger share of GM's profits over the past several years. With the stock having essentially treaded water for the past five years, however, shareholders might not necessarily agree.