When a rock group "unplugs" to release a beloved single as an acoustic song, fans often swoon, but, will investors warm to the latest release from General Electric (NYSE: GE)? It sounds a little something like this:

Once I built a railroad, I made it run, made it race against time.
Once I built a railroad; now it's done. Brother, can you spare a dime?
Once I built a tower, up to the sun, brick, and rivet, and lime;
Once I built a tower, now it's done. Brother, can you spare a dime?

Got a dime? I'll pay a dollar ...
Burned by the housing meltdown, and the role it played in financing mortgages, GE is refocusing on its roots and getting back to building railroads and towers (or rather, train engines, windmill turbines, and sundry other industrial equipment). It's taking on established energy incumbents Schlumberger (NYSE: SLB) and Baker Hughes (NYSE: BHI) with its acquisition of Dresser. Courting oil exploration companies like Petrobras (NYSE: PBR) with its purchase of Wellstream Holdings. Moving into the market for charging the new electric cars that Ford (NYSE: F) and General Motors (NYSE: GM) aim to build, and reinvesting in its appliances division as well.

Of course, all of this takes money, and so it was that over the weekend, GE announced it's cashing out of its Mexican mortgage business, selling to Spain's Banco Santander (NYSE: STD). The price: less than a dime on the dollar. According to news reports, GE owns a $2 billion portfolio of Mexican mortgages, but it's selling them to Santander at the cut-rate price of $162 million (plus the assumption of unspecified debts).

So depending on the size of the debts, we could be talking about as much as a 92% loss on GE's Mexican investment. Alone, that'd be bad enough, but in fact, GE informs investors that it has already sold off $14 billion worth of assets similar to the Mexican mortgages -- and will liquidate another $17 billion in 2011. If the Mexican deal's discount is at all indicative of the size of the haircut GE's taking to cut bait on these investments, the company could end up recording losses of up to $30 billion over the two years combined.

Given the stock's run-up this year, investors seem to think that's a fair price to pay to extricate GE from its mortgage mess. But it's hardly chump change.

Fool contributor Rich Smith does not own shares of any company named above. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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