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GE's stock has spiked 67% since its December low

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The biggest comeback kid on Wall Street is 126 years old.General Electric's stock price has spiked 67% since crashing to $6.45 in mid-December....

Posted: Feb 27, 2019 2:55 PM

The biggest comeback kid on Wall Street is 126 years old.

General Electric's stock price has spiked 67% since crashing to $6.45 in mid-December.

The staggering rally reflects a sense that the crisis phase at GE is finally over. CEO Larry Culp, who took the job in October, has impressed investors by moving with a sense of urgency to raise gobs of cash that can be used to pay the mountain of debt he inherited.

"GE is making rapid progress in its transformation plan," CFRA analyst Jim Corridore wrote in a report Monday.

Up 47% so far this year, GE is the fourth-best stock in the S&P 500 in 2019. That's a far cry from last year, when it was in such a nosedive that it got kicked out of the exclusive Dow Jones Industrial Average.

"We are doing everything in our power to return GE to a position of strength," Culp wrote in his inaugural annual shareholder letter on Wednesday.

GE, which makes everything from light bulbs to jet engines, has been blasted by analysts in the past for buying businesses at high prices and then selling them for much less. That buy high, sell-low history has come back to haunt GE. The company's stock price collapsed by 75% between the end of 2016 and last year.

However, GE is suddenly getting credit for smart dealmaking.

No fire sale

Wall Street applauded GE's decision to sell part — but not all — of its healthcare division. That's a shift from GE's earlier plan to say goodbye to the profitable and cash-rich business, likely through an IPO.

GE said Monday it would unload its BioPharma unit to Danaher, Culp's former company. The sale raised $21.4 billion, or roughly seven times the unit's annual revenue. That's a rich price and gives GE yet more ammo to clean up the balance sheet.

"GE is thinking creatively and intelligently about how to restructure," Corridore wrote.

GE has signaled that the breathing room created by the BioPharma sale will allow the company to put off an IPO of the profitable healthcare division.

For now, GE will hold onto the remaining business, which makes imaging equipment like MRI machines and diagnostics products.

The deal puts "us on better footing to consider the right option" for GE Healthcare "over time," Culp wrote.

In other words, no fire sale.

"By shelving the IPO, GE keeps a fairly high cash conversion business in the portfolio, at least for now, and allows for a more opportunistic exit," Cowen analyst Gautam Khanna wrote in a report to clients.

Dismantling GE to raise cash

The BioPharma sale is just the latest in a series of major moves Culp has announced since becoming CEO.

Perhaps most importantly, GE slashed its long-cherished dividend to a penny late last year — a move that will save it $4 billion each year. Culp acknowledged in his shareholder letter that it was a "painful but necessary" step.

GE is also speeding up its divorce from oil-and-gas giant Baker Hughes, a retreat that will raise another $4 billion or so.

GE raised another $1.5 billion by selling a GE Capital portfolio of healthcare equipment leases and loans.

This week GE also completed the spinoff of its century old railroad division to Wabtec. The deal raised $2.9 billion in cash and gave GE a 24.9% stake in the new company, which is already dealing with a massive strike.

GE is still worth less than $100 billion

Of course, GE's recent rebound is little comfort to the company's long-suffering shareholders.

Once America's most valuable company with a value of $400 billion, GE's market capitalization is just $93 billion today.

GE's rebound has no doubt been helped by the buoyant mood in financial markets this year. Investors have piled into a wide range of risky assets, including everything from crude oil and junk bonds to Snap and yes, GE.

Some believe the GE comeback is overdone. Big time.

"It has gone way too far," JPMorgan Chase analyst C. Stephen Tusa, Jr. told CNBC on Wednesday.

Tusa, who correctly went negative on GE years ago, warned that the company's power and financial divisions still face serious challenges that will take a long time to fix. He kept his $6 price target on GE, implying a decline of more than 40% from current levels.

"The math is the math," Tusa said.

GE will give out more numbers to crunch March 14. That's when Culp will host a highly anticipated conference call and give GE's outlook.

The 2019 figures that GE will pencil in won't be pretty. Power is still a mess. And GE Capital is still draining the company of cash.

But Wall Street is betting that Culp has successfully pulled GE back from the brink.

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