Reuters / Brendan McDermid
- General Electric said in its fourth-quarter earnings report on Thursday that it made progress on deleveraging its business, sending shares soaring as much as 18%.
- GE also said it sold off $8 billion of assets in the quarter and brought its debt load down by $21 billion.
- John Walsh at Credit Suisse liked what he saw and raised his price target on the company. He said GE is on track to make significant progress.
- His commentary was part of a broader consensus growing on Wall Street that GE's restructuring plan will work.
- But not everyone agreed. JPMorgan's Stephen Tusa said GE's post-earnings rally left him scratching his head.
- Watch GE trade live.
"Our strategy is clear: de-leverage our balance sheet and strengthen our businesses, starting with Power," GE's chairman and CEO, Larry Culp, said in the earnings release. GE said it sold off $8 billion of assets in the quarter and brought its debt load down by $21 billion.
And analysts on Wall Street seem to like what they're hearing.
GE's stock climbed roughly 2% on Friday, bolstered by positive commentary from John Walsh at Credit Suisse, who raised his price target on the stock.
"We think GE is on track to make significant progress towards the 2.5x net debt/ EBITDA target for the Industrial business in 2020," Walsh said. "The Healthcare IPO, Wabtec deal, and sell-down of BHGE are expected to contribute ~$50B toward that goal, with $18B of debt/pension transfer to Healthcare, as well. GE continues to target a single-A credit rating and does not expect to issue new debt until 2021."
It's an encouraging take, especially considering how much pressure GE's stock was under in 2018. The company's shares lost more than half of their value as its power business struggled, price-cost pressures were compounded by the US-China trade war, and its LEAP engine suffered through behind-schedule deliveries.
To reorganize its business, GE in October replaced John Flannery with Larry Culp as GE's CEO. Under the leadership of Culp, GE has been working hard to reduce debt by selling assets.
In November, GE announced plans to expedite efforts to sell a $4 billion stake in the oil-field-services provider Baker Hughes. Additionally, its finance arm, GE Capital, sold a $1.5 billion healthcare-equipment finance portfolio to the US lender TIAA Bank.
And in December, General Electric said its digital unit would sell a majority stake in ServiceMax, a software provider, to the technology-focused private-equity firm Silver Lake. GE is also taking steps to spin off its health-care unit to narrow its focus on building jet engines and power equipment.
Entering the new year, GE also announced that it has revised merger agreement between rail-transport company Wabtec and GE Transportation, a business unit of GE. Under the new agreement, GE will receive approximately $2.9 billion of cash but gives more equities to Wabtec.
But not everyone on Wall Street was as positive as Walsh.
"We come away from the 4Q scratching our heads at the stock reaction," said JPMorgan analyst Stephen Tusa, "We believe one has to make highly optimistic assumptions to get back to a run rate that supports anything near $10."
Tusa went further to say GE's dash for cash is stealing value from the shareholder.
"The key aspect here, to us, is more clarity on de-leveraging around where the 'value' of the assets is going (to reduce debt, liabilities and GE Capital Services), and then ongoing lack of visibility on the simple math that shows a negative run rate on enterprise FCF fully diluted for portfolio moves, from which, even assuming recovery in Power, " Tusa said.
Tusa has a "neutral" rating and a $6 price target — 40% below where shares are trading on Friday.
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