GE’s $500,000,000,000 Market Wipeout Is Like Erasing Facebook
A financial trader reacts as he monitors data on computer screens at the Frankfurt Stock Exchange in Frankfurt, Germany (Photographer: Martin Leissl/Bloomberg)  

GE’s $500,000,000,000 Market Wipeout Is Like Erasing Facebook

(Bloomberg) -- On August 28, 2000, Apple’s hottest product was a candy-colored computer, Donald Trump was a New York real estate mogul and General Electric Co. was worth some $600 billion.

Apple and Trump have gone on to greater things. GE? It’s on the verge of a staggering milestone: a half-trillion dollars in market value wiped out since that all-time high 18 years ago. On Monday the company made the surprise announcement that it was replacing Chief Executive Officer John Flannery, who has been unable to stem the slide in the company’s shares after just more than a year in the job.

GE’s $500,000,000,000 Market Wipeout Is Like Erasing Facebook

The iconic American corporation is now worth just under $100 billion, its stock at around $11 at Friday’s close, and investors are signaling they don’t expect things to get better. While the stock surged Monday after the announcement of the change at the top, the shares -- and the company -- have a massive hole to dig out from.

The collapse -- an 81 percent drop from the peak -- is all the more startling as it comes amid record-setting market gains. Apple Inc. recently became the first U.S.-based company to top $1 trillion in market value, followed shortly thereafter by Inc.

Even longtime GE observers, bears among them, are stunned. “Wow,” said Steve Tusa, a JPMorgan Chase & Co. analyst who has followed GE since 2001, when asked about the half-trillion figure.

What is $500 Billion?

  • The GDP of Belgium
  • The market value of Facebook
  • The combined market value of Boeing, 3M and Honeywell
  • A Tesla Model 3 -- and three years of garage parking -- for every person in New York City
  • A top-of-the-line iPhone X for every person in the U.S.
  • A Starbucks caffe latte every morning for the next 464 million years

GE’s fall from that mid-2000 heyday -- the legendary Jack Welch was nearing the end of his tenure then -- has come in fits and starts. The 9/11 terrorist attack badly hurt its jet-engine and insurance businesses, for instance. But the last couple years have been particularly brutal.

The shares fell 45 percent in 2017 after cash-flow shortages and weak sales in its power unit, among other factors. They’ve crashed another 35 percent so far this year. The decline earned the century-old company an unwelcome boot from the Dow Jones Industrial Average in June, leading to yet more selling.

GE’s $500,000,000,000 Market Wipeout Is Like Erasing Facebook

In mid-September, GE took a sharp dive when new questions arose over its critical power segment business. Investors were spooked by GE’s acknowledgment that its flagship gas turbine was suffering from an “oxidation issue” that prompted a customer to temporarily shut down two U.S. power plants.

GE has identified a fix and says the situation is under control. But last week’s slide shows how “there’s very little wiggle room for incrementally bad news,” Tusa said.

Amid the carnage, GE is remaking itself, unloading many of its oldest businesses, including Thomas Edison’s light-bulb operations. Flannery, who took over as CEO from Jeffrey Immelt last year, has cut the dividend and had planned to narrow GE’s focus to only aviation, power generation and renewable energy. He was also looking to shrink the bulk of the remaining finance operations, a legacy from Welch and Immelt, that took a massive hit in the 2008 financial crisis.

None of this rejuvenated the stock, and short sellers have been piling on in anticipation of further drops. GE has become the third-largest short among industrial conglomerates, behind Toshiba and 3M, according to S3 Analytics.

“Where does this bottom?” said Deane Dray, an analyst with RBC Capital Markets. “That’s what everyone is trying to figure out.”

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

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