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In 2008, the industrial conglomerate General Electric surprised many when, as a result of the freezing in commercial paper markets, it needed to convert to a bank holding company and take a $139 billion debt backing by the Federal Deposit Insurance Company.
Many familiar with the GE for its steady returns and epic strings of profitability found it crazy that the world's largest engineering company would qualify as a bank and need debt guarantees from the government. However, a reliance on the $60 plus billion revenue earning GE Capital division and the short term funds needed to run it put GE into crisis as credit markets froze after the collapse of
In October 2008, Warren Buffett took a $3 billion warrant in General Electric, which inspired enough confidence in the company for it to sell an additional $12 billion worth of stock to raise much needed capital -- the investment was one of Buffett's big
investments in America
in a time of crisis.
General Electric also struck a host of deals to bring in cash and manage its GE Capital business.
In December 2009, General Electric sold a controlling interest in its NBC Universal division to
Comcast(CMCSA - Get Report) for $13.75 billion. While the deal netted General Electric some much needed cash and allowed it to avoid a multibillion dollar buyback of NBC from
Vivendi, it ceded control of GE's 4th largest and most glamorous business line.
GE Capital's also cut some of its sprawling overseas financial businesses like a 20% stake in Istanbul -based Turkiye Garanti Bankasi to
Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria(BBVA) for over $3.7 billion and a Central American bank to Colombia's
Grupo Aval for $1.9 billion in the biggest ever acquisition for a Colombia company. Overall, GE sold $23.5 billion worth of businesses through the crisis
In part as a result of the divestitures, GE's earnings have fallen from $180 billion in sales and $20 billion in profits before the crisis to $150 billion and $11.6 billion in revenue and profits respectively. Nevertheless, the company's cash has increased to a record $91.4 billion in its most recent quarter, a more than ten-fold increase from 2005 levels - and it's cut short-term liabilities below $200 billion.
The sales and balance sheet improvements have allowed GE to strike focused deals to bolster its engineering specialty. In October 2010, GE bought oil equipment maker
Dresser for $3 billion. In 2011, GE also bought wind turbine maker
Converteam for $3.2 billion, signaling that as it scales back its risky finance activities, GE will refocus on its industrial engineering dominance.
It may be a smart play, while shares of the largest banks in the U.S like
Bank of America(BAC),
Wells Fargo(WFC) and
Citigroup(C - Get Report) are down at last 20% this year, GE's shares haven't suffered as much, falling 12%.