Tag Archives: General Electric

Could GE’s Slow Collapse Ignite A Financial Crisis?

Will GE be the proverbial “black swan?” – It had come to my attention that General Electric was locked out of the commercial paper market three weeks ago after Moody’s downgraded GE’s short term credit rating to a ratings level (P-2) that prevents prime money market funds from investing in commercial paper. Commercial paper (CP) is an important source of short term, low-cost, liquid funding for large companies. At one point, GE was one of the largest users of CP funding. As recently as Q2 this year, 14.3% of GE’s debt consisted of CP. Now GE will have to resort to using its bank revolving credit to fund its short term liquidity needs, which is considerably more expensive than using CP.

Moody’s rationale for the downgrade was that, “the adverse impact on GE’s cash flows from the deteriorating performance of the Power business will be considerable and could last some time.” Keep in mind that the ratings agencies, especially Moody’s, are typically reluctant to downgrade highly regarded companies and almost always understate or underestimate the severity of problems faced by a company whose fundamentals are rapidly deteriorating.

As an example, Moody’s had Enron rated as investment grade until just a few days before Enron filed bankruptcy. At the beginning of November 2001, Moody’s had Enron rated at Baa1. This is three notices above a non-investment grade rating (Ba1 for Moody’s and BB+ for S&P). Currently Moody’s and S&P have GE’s long term debt rated Baa1/BBB+. In the bond market, however, GE bonds are trading almost at junk bond yields.

Once a company that relies on cheap short-term funding is locked out of the commercial paper market, it more often than not precedes the rapid financial demise of that company. Because GE is GE, it may not be rapid, but I would bet GE is on the ropes financially and could go down eventually. GE’s CEO was on CNBC two weeks ago on a Monday proclaiming that the Company’s number one priority is to bring “leverage levels down” using asset sales. One asset GE is said to be considering selling is its aviation unit, which is considered its crown jewel. This is the classic signal that a company is struggling to stay solvent – i.e. burning furniture to keep the lights on and heat the house. It’s not a bad bet that GE might file chapter 11 – or even Chapter 7 liquidation – in the next 18-24 months (maybe sooner).

I wanted to discuss this situation because I opined on Twitter recently that a sell-off in GE’s stock below $5 could trigger an avalanche of selling in the stock market. Just as significant, an event in which a company like GE is shut off from commercial paper funding is the type of “pebble” that is tossed onto an unstable financial system and starts a credit market crisis. The downgrade of GE’s short term funding rating is a reflection of rising and widespread systemic instability and the general financial deterioration of corporate America. I predict that we’ll start to hear more about GE’s collapsing operational and financial condition and we’ll start to see a lot more companies head down the same path as GE.

Note:  The above commentary is an excerpt from the November 18th Short Seller’s Journal.  Since then, GE’s stock price has dropped another 5.5%.  I had recommended shorting GE at $30 in the January 29, 2017 issue of SSJ.  GE’s tangible net worth (book value minus goodwill + intangibles) is negative $31.3 billion.

GE also has a $28.7 billion+ underfunded pension obligation. It is by far the largest underfunded pension in corporate America.  I say “$28.7 billion+” because I’m certain that if an independent auditor plowed through the pension fund assets and liabilities, it would discover that the assets are overstated and the liabilities (future beneficiary payouts) are understated.

In other words, GE’s balance sheet is the equivalent of financial Fukushima.  The previous CEO borrowed $6 billion to cover pension payments through 2020. This is like throwing napalm on a gasoline fire.

GE Brings Good Things To Short-Sellers

GE hit $8 in 2008. If you short the stock with some patience, this stock is, in my opinion, a low-risk bet that it will at least drop 50% over the next 12-18 months. – January 29, 2017 issue of  Short Seller’s Journal

General Electric has been a no-brain’er short this year.  I recommended it as short on January 29th.    The “legendary” Jack Welch practically invented corporate financial engineering and  accounting manipulation as we know it today (sorry if you are under 35 managing money and don’t know who Jack Welch or what accounting manipulation is).

So imagine my shock when GE has been reporting earnings “misses” for several quarters, including the most recent.  GE must be the only company in the S&P 500 that can’t seem to beat Wall Street’s quarterly ritual of essentially laying an earnings “bar” on the ground over which companies “proudly” step each quarter.  On the other hand, it’s likely an indicator of just how bad the real  numbers are at GE.  I guess Welch’s legacy is finally haunting the Company.  And for Halloween investors might be getting a dividend cut in their “treat bag” from GE.

Back at the end of January I said this in the Short Seller’s Journal:

For it’s latest quarter, operating earnings dropped year over year despite a slight year over year increase in revenues for the quarter. It’s operating earnings also dropped for the first nine months of 2016 vs. same period in 2015. For the first 9 months of 2016, GE’s operations burned cash, although they’ll attribute that to “discontinued” operations, which burned $5.3 billion for the period.

Companies often classify money-losing businesses as “discontinued” with the intent to sell them. But until the disco’d businesses are sold, GE has to live with them. This is yet another earnings management technique, as GE can then separate out the “discontinued” business numbers from the “continuing operations” for as long as GE still controls the disco’d businesses. This enables GE to present an earnings number that does not include the losses associated with the disco’d businesses. It thereby enables GE to present a managed “GAAP” earnings metric that is significantly higher than the true earnings of GE’s operations.

GE reported its Q4 earnings on January 20th. It has not filed a 10Q yet but it “met” earnings expectations and missed sales. The oil-related business is one of the heavy weights on GE’s operations. Despite “meeting” estimates and a rosy analyst spin on the earnings report, the stock dropped 4.7% over the next two days, diverging very negatively from the Dow, which moved higher, up and over 20k.

You can see from the chart on the previous page that GE plunged below its 50 and 200 dma’s and failed to trade back up to the 200 dma while the Dow was hitting 20,000. This is a very bearish chart and it looks like big funds are dumping their shares. This is a more “conservative” short-sell play but the stock could easily drop 50% over the next 12-18 months.

Wall Street has finally begun to downgrade its earnings forecasts and stock price targets on GE.  I guess better late than never but anyone who listened to Wall Street in January expecting GE to be at $40 now is having a hard time sitting down without pain.

On the other hand, GE brings good things to short-sellers.  There’s stocks that are falling out of bed every day.  In the latest issue released yesterday, I presented a home construction supply company who’s stock has gone parabolic that, based on the fundamentals, is more of a lay-up short than GE seemed back in January.  You find out more about the Short Seller’s Journal by clicking here:  Short Seller’s Journal info.

This was emailed to me yesterday from a subscriber: “Sometimes I grow weary about short selling in this market, and then you come up with one good one, that shows me it really can fall down. I almost gave up on FCAU [SSJ’s recommendation to short Fiat Chrysler in the Sept 24th issue], but did not. Keep up the good work!”