General Electric (GE) - Get Report agreed Monday to sell its $1.4 billion restaurant finance business to three regional buyers, bringing sales of the manufacturer's once-sprawling loan portfolio to 90% of CEO Jeffrey Immelt's goal.
Terms of the transaction, which push total agreements for sales of GE Capital's assets to $180 billion, weren't disclosed, the Fairfield, Conn.-based company said in a statement. First Horizon National, a Tennessee-based bank, is buying loans in the Southwest and Southeast; Wintrust, an Illinois-based bank, is taking assets in the Midwest and part of the West; and Sterling, based in New York, is acquiring outstanding loans in the East.
Winding down most of the lending business is a vital part of Immelt's plan to refocus the 124-year-old company founded by Thomas Edison on industrial businesses from health-care equipment to locomotives while winning a dominant share of the burgeoning digital manufacturing market.
GE's stock has gained 14% since Immelt announced a plan to sell most of GE Capital's loan portfolio a year ago, an exponentially better performance than the broader Dow Jones Industrial Average and the Standard & Poor's 500, which both declined.
If regulators approve, the sales will enable GE Capital to return about $35 billion to the parent company through dividends, $200 million of which would be linked to the restaurant finance deal. Barclays and Moelis & Company served as financial advisers to GE on the transaction, while Hogan Lovells was the company's legal counsel.
Executives have said winding down GE Capital should also convince the government to lift the company's designation as a systemically important financial institution, a label applied after the 2008 financial crisis to businesses large enough to threaten the broader economy if they fail. The government subjects such firms to increased restrictions on capital investments.
This year alone, Immelt has said, transforming the company will enable it to pay $8 billion in dividends to investors and buy back $18 billion of its stock.
GE's plans aren't likely to be significantly affected by Britain's decision to leave the European Union, a move that has roiled global markets and hammered financial stocks. The UK generates only a small portion of GE's revenue, and Europe as a whole accounts for only about a seventh, said Nick Heymann, an analyst with William Blair.
"We do not believe that GE's reinvention is going to be upended by the Brexit outcome," Heymann wrote in a note to clients. "We continue to sense that GE's share price is now set to enter its next phase of market outperformance based on a better understanding of and stronger earnings contribution from GE Digital."
The company expects to boost digital-manufacturing revenue to $15 billion by 2020, while the market expands to as much as $225 billion, CFO Jeff Bornstein said last week.
"We remain confident in the business's direction," TheStreet's Jim Cramer, who holds the stock in his Action Alerts PLUS charitable trust portfolio, said in a report to clients on Friday. Investors stand to benefit as the company focuses on digital expansion, he said, and "as it becomes a leaner entity through the divestitures of its financial assets.