S&P Downgrades GE Rating on Power Woes

GE's "solid performance" in aviation and health care has been "overshadowed by weakness in the power segment," the rating agency says.
Matthew HellerOctober 3, 2018

The pressure on General Electric to reduce debt and turn around its power equipment business intensified on Tuesday as S&P Global downgraded its credit rating by two notches.

The downgrade to BBB+ from A followed GE’s announcement on Monday that it had replaced CEO John Flannery and the power division would take a non-cash $23 billion charge to write down the value of goodwill.

“The latest news on power performance has led us revise down our view of GE’s aggregate competitive positioning, with solid performance in aviation and health care further overshadowed by weakness in the power segment,” S&P said in a news release.

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The rating agency said it believed Flannery’s replacement, former Danaher CEO Lawrence Culp, was committed to cutting GE’s debts, but warned that “the timing and magnitude of such actions compared to our previous expectations could take longer as he undertakes his own evaluation.”

According to one industry analyst, Culp may change course from Flannery by deciding not to spin off GE’s health division, which accounted for 15.8% of its sales and 43.2% of its operating profit last year.

Financial policy “will be the key determinant of [GE’s] financial risk profile, our base case with or without the health care transaction is a ‘BBB+’ rating,” S&P said.

As The Financial Times reports, the rating downgrade “into the B category, albeit at the highest level, is a notable move for a company that lost its triple-A rating less than a decade ago, during the financial crisis in 2009. It is another indication of the pressures facing the company, which has lost about 60 percent of its market capitalization since the start of 2017.”

GE said it had “a sound liquidity position, including cash and operating credit lines,” adding, “We remain committed to strengthening the balance sheet including deleveraging.”

But another rating agency, Moody’s, said Tuesday that it was putting GE’s A2 rating under review for a possible downgrade, citing the change of CEO and the impact on earnings and cash flow of the continuing deterioration in the power business, which was “likely to persist for some time.”