General Electric said Monday it will freeze pensions for about 20,000 salaried employees and take other pension-related steps as part of its restructuring plan to reduce debt.
The measures are expected to reduce GE’s pension deficit by approximately $5 billion to $8 billion and industrial net debt by about $4 billion to $6 billion. The ailing conglomerate’s traditional pension plans, which were underfunded by $27 billion as of the end of 2018, are one of its biggest liabilities.
In addition to the pension freeze, GE will pre-fund about $4 billion to $5 billion of its estimated minimum requirements for 2021 and 2022 under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act by using a portion of the $38 billion in cash it is collecting from the sale of various businesses.
“Returning GE to a position of strength has required us to make several difficult decisions, and today’s decision to freeze the pension is no exception,” Kevin Cox, chief human resources officer at GE, said in a news release.
“We carefully weighed market trends and our strategic priority to improve our financial position with the impact to our employees,” he added.
As Business Insider reports, “The move comes as GE CEO Larry Culp is guiding the company through a restructuring plan in the face of major cash flow concerns, mounting debt, and a struggling power business.” GE had a total of around $105.8 billion in debt as of June 30.
Culp has also slashed GE’s quarterly dividend to a penny and sold non-core businesses, focusing the company on power plants, jet engines and windmills.
According to The Wall Street Journal, GE is “one of the rare big U.S. manufacturers that still allows salaried workers to accrue traditional pension payments, though it closed its plan to new participants in 2012.” Thousands of other U.S. companies have swapped traditional pensions for 401(k) plans.
William Blair & Co. analyst Nicholas Heymann told Reuters there would be no immediate net reduction in GE’s pension liabilities given the 90 basis-point decline in long-term interest rates since the end of last year.