By Tomi Kilgore, MarketWatch
Shares hold gains through conference call for a change, as CEO sees headwinds peaking for struggling power business
Shares of General Electric Co. rocketed toward their best one-day performance in 10 years, a pleasant surprise for investors given the struggling industrial company's history of disappointing with its earnings numbers and recent post-results conference calls.
Investors seemed to appreciate that Chief Executive Larry Culp was now embracing reality rather than relying on hope.
The stock's(GE)11.7% surge on heavy volume Thursday was its biggest one-day gain since it ran up 12.7% on March 12, 2009, which was a week after it closed at a more than 16-year low of $6.66 at the depths of the financial crisis.
Trading volume ballooned to 348.6 million shares, the most in over three years, and almost triple the full-day average of about 118.5 million shares.
That was a welcome change for GE investors, who have had to get used to seeing the stock sell off after results. The stock declined on earnings day for 11 of the past 13 quarters, by an average of 2.7%, according to FactSet data, including the 8.8% plunge after third-quarter 2018 results reported on Oct. 30.
And while the stock pared some gains early Thursday as Culp started speaking on the conference call, it recovered to make new highs before the call ended, as he suggested the worst for the struggling power business was nearly behind it. Read more about how GE shares performed after previous conference calls ().
See related: GE stock dives toward 9 1/2-year low as new CEO leads to same result for investors ().
The stock moved lower in a knee-jerk reaction when results were released, as adjusted profit missed expectations, but then turned sharply higher as revenue rose above forecasts (). Although revenue from GE's power business fell below forecasts, revenue from GE's aviation, healthcare, renewable energy, oil and gas and transportation businesses all rose more than expected.
GE's stock has now gained 6.1% over the past three months, but has still tumbled 36.6% over the past 12 months. In comparison, the SPDR Industrial Select Sector exchange-traded fund(XLI)has lost 9.8% the past year and the S&P 500 indexhas slipped 4.2%.
Culp said on the conference call that while he expects the power business to continue to face headwinds, primarily non-operational headwinds related to legal settlements and legacy project erosion, he believes they will represent a "high-water mark" this year then start receding rather rapidly.
"Over the next few years, these effects should come down substantially," Culp said, according to a transcript provided by FactSet.
He also said the company cut 10,000 power jobs, or 15% of that unit's workforce, as it reduced its footprint by 30% and took out $900 million of base costs, as it recognized and "embraced the realities of the secular and cyclical pressures" in the business.
"Embracing market reality means a more appropriate revenue outlook, one that is further grounded in the reality of our $92 billion backlog rather than in the hope of new orders, not yet won," Culp said.
Culp also dispelled concerns on Wall Street that GE was in talks to sell its GE Capital Aviation Services (GECAS) business, a move viewed as actually bad for the company (), as the valuation it could get for the unit would imply desperation to raise cash.
"To be clear, we have no plans to sell GECAS," he said.
Jim Corridore, a senior equity analyst at CFRA, reiterated his buy rating on GE, and raised his share price target to $13 from $11. "We expect a GE fix to take time, but today's results show some much needed progress," Corridor wrote in an emailed note to clients.
One area of focus heading into earnings was GE's free cash flow (FCF), especially after the company slashed its quarterly dividend to just a penny a share from 12 cents. Although Culp said its businesses other than power had "strong" cash generation during the quarter, and that drags on FCF will "meaningfully lessen" next year and in 2021, he declined to provide any concrete guidance, for now: "We will give you a more detailed outlook in the near term, but not today."
-Tomi Kilgore; 415-439-6400; AskNewswires@dowjones.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
February 02, 2019 10:37 ET (15:37 GMT)
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