The extra $2.1 billion that General Electric (GE) - Get Report made on the renegotiated sale of its iconic appliances business will let the manufacturer invest enough in restructuring to double its originally planned savings of $400 million this year in oil and gas.
The extra cash, generated by an agreement to sell the appliances unit to China's Qingdao Haier for $5.4 billion after the collapse of a less lucrative deal with Electrolux, helps GE boost profitability at a time when sliding oil prices have crimped its customers' budgets and delayed orders, dragging down sales.
"We're trying to deliver $800 million of cost-out in 2016, and appliances is an important part of our ability to do that," CFO Jeff Bornstein said on an earnings call Friday. "We're going to invest more aggressively in 2016 in restructuring the oil and gas footprint than we even did in 2015."
GE is targeting lower costs by making its oil and gas plants more efficient, as well as producing in-house some of the $30 billion in parts it has outsourced in the past and negotiating lower prices on the rest. The oil and gas unit reduced costs by about $600 million last year, and being able to increase those savings this year would be "good news," William Blair analyst Nick Heymann said last week.
While oil prices have plummeted more than 40% in the past year, dipping to $26.55 a barrel on Wednesday before rallying, Bornstein noted that the GE service and drilling businesses that are most susceptible to that volatility make up only 15% of projected oil and gas revenue this year.
The business's backlog, an indicator of future revenue, dropped 9% to $22.9 billion at the end of the quarter, accounting for less than a tenth of the parent company's total backlog of $315 billion.
"By and large, we feel pretty good about how our backlog lays out," CEO Jeffrey Immelt said on the call. "We are not, though, Pollyanna-ish about the oil and gas market and we need to be fast on our feet as it pertains to how that business rolls out the rest of the year."
Bornstein reiterated the company's December prediction that the unit's sales and profit may fall 10% to 15% in 2016, telling analysts that the first six months of the year would be more challenging than the remainder.
Revenue in the segment dropped 16% to $4.36 bilion in the fourth quarter, helping drag the parent's total sales to$33.9 billion, lower than the $35.9 billion average from analysts. That fueled a 1.2% drop in the company's stock, which traded at $28.24 at Friday's close. GE has still climbed 16% in the past 12 months, compared with declines on both the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the Standard & Poor's 500 Index.
Oil and gas is the fourth-largest of GE's manufacturing divisions, which Immelt has focused on as he shifts away from peripheral businesses like NBC Universal and most of GE Capital. The CEO is working to trim the sprawling lending business to about 10% of total profit by 2018, down from 42% in in 2014. By year-end, he had reached agreements to sell $157 billion of its loan portfolio.
A related development, the completion of GE's share swap with Synchrony -- the consumer financing business spun off in 2014 -- enabled the manufacturer to reduce its outstanding shares by 671 million in the fourth quarter. GE Capital, meanwhile, paid a dividend of $4.3 billion to the parent company for 2015 and is on track to return $18 billion this year, the company said.
"GE is no longer a finance company," said TheStreet's Jim Cramer, portfolio manager for the Action Alerts PLUS charitable trust. "It's a powerhouse industrial."
While oil and gas sales declined, "they're being up front about it that it's not good," said Cramer, who'd want to add GE to the trust's holdings if the price drops to the $26 range.
At the same time as the GE Capital wind-down, Immelt has expanded core operations with deals such as the $10 billion purchase of Alstom SA's power grid division. The strategy has paid off so far, with fourth-quarter earnings of 52 cents a share from industrial businesses and lending operations GE plans to keep topping an average estimate of 49 cents a share from analysts surveyed by Bloomberg.
Along with making products from locomotives to jet engines and health-care equipment, the Fairfield, Conn.-based company is emphasizing its Predix analytics software platform. A product akin to Apple's iOS, but for manufacturers, Predix provides a base on which GE partners can develop apps that gather data from equipment like wind turbines and train engines and use it to optimize their performance.
Digital revenue for all of 2015 rose 22% to $5 billion, the company said, and executives predicted another year of 20% gains or more in digital applications across its industrial businesses.
"Our biggest industrial business, which is power, had organic orders growth of 29% in the quarter," Immelt said on the call. "I have a difficult time reconciling this with the mood that is in the markets."
Orders from existing businesses grew 1% in the fourth quarter, and GE added $29 billion to its backlog from the Alstom deal. The company also achieved its goal of a 17% operating profit margin for the full year in industrial businesses, reaching 19.3% in the three months through December.
"We're seeing a lot of economic volatility, but there's still enough business out there for GE to reach its goals," Immelt said.
Still, there were points of concern. Earnings from existing industrial businesses dipped 1%, for example, while Goldman Sachs analyst Joe Ritchie had predicted growth of 3%.
For all of 2015, orders from existing manufacturing operations were down 3%, he said in a note to clients, "which does not appear to be supportive of GE's 2016 organic growth guide of 2% to 4% gains, particularly in light of the volatile start to 2016."
Net income, including a $175 million fee from Electrolux when the planned sale of GE's appliance business collapsed in December as well as earnings from lending operations the company plans to sell, rose 22% to $6.28 billion, or 64 cents a share.
GE still projects operating earnings of as much as $1.55 this year, a gain of about 18%, and the company reiterated its plans to return some $26 billion to shareholders, including $18 billion in buybacks and another $8 billion in dividends.
S&P Capital IQ projects earnings of $1.47 a year for GE, "given our positive view of its ongoing transformation to industrial and away from financial services and other areas," analyst Jim Corridore said in a note to clients.
"If you stand back and look at 2016, we've got a lot of self-help in place with restructuring, a big backlog and share repurchase," Immelt said. "We feel good about double-digit earnings growth, about returning a lot of cash back to investors and about really continuing to drive our strategy into the future."