Standard & Poor’s has put General Electric on watch for a possible credit rating downgrade, warning that the company’s planned spinoff of most of its healthcare business could result in “more volatile profitability and cash flow.”
The spinoff announced Tuesday is part of GE’s effort to refashion itself as a digital industrial company by shedding about $20 billion in assets. It is also seeking to reduce net debt by about $25 billion by 2020.
GE shares spiked on news of the spinoff, rising 8% to $13.77 in the best day for the stock since April 10, 2015.
S&P, however, reacted by placing all of its GE credit ratings on “CreditWatch with negative implications.” GE currently has a long-term issuer rating of ‘A,’ the third-highest rung of rating after AAA and AA.
“GE’s divestiture of its core health care segment leaves the company with less business diversity, earnings and cash flow and as such, potential for heightened volatility in profits and cash flow,” S&P said in a news release.
“However, debt reduction and substantial cash balances will reduce balance sheet risk,” the rating agency added.
On Monday, GE said it would sell part of its embattled power division to private-equity firm Advent International. CEO John Flannery called the healthcare spinoff “an important milestone in GE’s history.”
“We are aggressively driving forward as an aviation, power and renewable energy company — three highly complementary businesses poised for future growth,” he said. “We will continue to improve our operations and balance sheet as we make GE simpler and stronger.”
S&P said it would resolve the CreditWatch placement around the time the healthcare spinoff closes, estimated to be in 12 to 18 months.
“GE’s ability to further improve its credit metrics following the divestiture will depend on its financial policies and market conditions for key markets, including power generation and aviation as well as use of any proceeds from the planned full separation of Baker Hughes over the next two to three years,” it said.