Will GE Cut Back on Middle-Market Lending?

The 'systemically important' designation and the perceived riskiness of its finance unit have GE contemplating more drastic cuts to its lending bus...
Katie Kuehner-HebertMarch 12, 2015
Will GE Cut Back on Middle-Market Lending?

General Electric is focusing more on its industrial business, with plans to curtail or even shed its lending arm, GE Capital.

A Wall Street Journal story on Wednesday said that “shareholders continue to penalize the company for what they perceive as a risky finance business,” causing GE’s stock to underperform its industrial competitors that don’t have lending units.

GE Capital must enhance our industrial competitiveness, not detract from it,” CEO Jeff Immelt was expected to write in a letter to shareholders set to be published Monday with the company’s annual report, according to the WSJ.

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“We see a significant advantage in our ability to bring financial solutions to industries like aviation, energy and health care. But make no mistake, the ultimate size of GE Capital will be based on competitiveness, returns, and the impact of regulation on the company.”

While GE would likely continue lending in areas that support its industrial operations, such as aircraft leasing and energy and health-care financing, the company might dispose of its more general commercial lending operations to middle-market companies if regulators approve such a deal — and if it could get a good price, WSJ wrote.

Since the financial crisis, the company has been scaling back GE Capital by selling commercial real estate assets to international banks and spinning off the business lines of private-label credit cards and store credit plans into a separate company called Synchrony Financial.

Next the company plans to sell $130 billion in “red assets,” a package of unwanted investments in office buildings and loans, and spin off the rest of Synchrony later this year.

Immelt has said previously that GE Capital’s share of the company’s profit would be reduced to 25% in 2016, from 42% last year and more than 50% before the financial crisis, WSJ wrote.

For now, banking regulators are requiring that GE keep more capital in its lending arm, now designated as “systemically important,” and not take as much cash out to help pay dividends, buy back shares, and finance GE’s industrial operations.

“We’ve just got to be laserlike focused on those things that, in the regulatory world we live in today, that we can stay in and generate a return on capital that makes sense for you all,” GE CFO Jeff Bornstein reportedly told investors in February.