decision to divert $9.5 billion in cash into its finance arm looks like further positioning for a reduction in the company's dividend, says a money manager who owns the company's stock.
General Electric CFO Keith Sherin said Tuesday the conglomerate would move $9.5 billion, part of $15 billion in equity it sold late last year, to its finance arm, GE Capital. GE has said it plans to reduce leverage in the unit and rely less on short-term funding.
William Batcheller, director of investment management at GE shareholder Butler, Wick & Co., says while it is not entirely clear how the money would have otherwise been used, two clear options would have been making acquisitions or paying the dividend. Judging from
, he now sees both as less likely.
"The body language is they're getting less concerned about maintaining the dividend," Batcheller says.
A GE spokesman referred to Sherin's comments Tuesday and declined to comment on speculation about the company's dividend.
Though Batcheller had thought maintaining the dividend was critical for GE, he says he has changed his view in recent weeks. The market does not appear to be punishing the company for flirting with cutting its payout and easing its defense of its hallowed triple-A rating, he says.
"The market is telling them 'We don't much care if you cut the dividend. Do what you need to do. We've punished you enough," Batcheller says.
Richard Tortoriello, equity analyst at Standard & Poor's, says "he would welcome " a GE dividend cut.
"That would give the company some more financial flexibility," he says. "It would of course not make some shareholders happy, but the survival of the company has to come first."
GE shares closed up 2.8% to $11.94 on Wednesday.