Shares of General Electric (GE 1.58%) traded down nearly 5% on Tuesday, outpacing the broader market's coronavirus-related sell-off. A Wall Street bear didn't like what he saw in the company's recently filed annual report, creating additional uncertainty surrounding the shares.
J.P. Morgan analyst Stephen Tusa in a note out Tuesday said that General Electric's higher-than-expected 2019 free cash flow, which excited investors back in January, was the result of one-time restructuring and what he calls "unsustainable progress payment benefits."
Tusa also said that the issues plaguing the company's massive aerospace unit go well beyond headwinds attributable to Boeing's 737 MAX grounding.
General Electric shareholders have had a difficult run since the early part of the last decade. The company exited the Great Recession trying to dig out of a financial hole caused by poor acquisitions and mismanagement. GE is on its third CEO since 2017, and last summer Bernie Madoff whistleblower Harry Markopolos suggested GE's issues are far worse than what the company has disclosed.
It's worth noting that GE has even higher expectations for industrial cash flow for 2020, setting the target at $2 billion to $4 billion, compared to analyst expectations going into earnings for $1.2 billion. Whether it is sustainable remains a topic for debate, but the guidance does not suggest the company's outperformance in 2019 is a one-time event.
Still, it's hard to get too excited about General Electric right now. The company, despite its progress, remains a turnaround story, with a troubled power business and choppiness in its aviation business. The coronavirus outbreak's impact on industrial demand is yet another reason for uncertainty. GE shows no sign of returning to the growth stock status it enjoyed in the 1990s. Investors are best served looking elsewhere.