General Electric Co.(GE) - Get Reporthas completed the $3.4 billion sale of its water business to the French company Suez SA, a move the U.S. government required before signing off on the merger of the conglomerate's oil business with Baker Hughes.
Selling the unit, which employed 7,500 workers and garnered $2.1 billion a year in revenue, streamlines GE's power business as well as its broader portfolio as the company focuses on digital manufacturing following former CEO Jeffrey Immelt's sale of non-industrial businesses like NBC television and most of the GE Capital lending division.
It's the second of two transactions GE had hoped to finish this year. The other, the $2.6 billion sale of the industrial solutions unit, was announced at the end of September but may not close until early next year.
"By creating a more simplified and focused business, we'll be better positioned to leverage power's strengths across the entire electricity value network," Russell Stokes, head of the power business, said in a statement on Monday, Oct. 2.
There may be more deals to come. New CEO John Flannery, who took over from Immelt on Aug. 1, has promised a broader review of the Boston-based conglomerate's remaining businesses, which range from medical equipment to jet engines and locomotives, as he works to improve profit and cash flow.
Investors including activist Trian Partners are pressuring the new CEO to address concern that the company's negative cash from manufacturing in the first half of the year suggests it might have trouble maintaining a dividend currently valued at $8 billion a year.
GE executives have insisted, however, that the payment isn't in question and that the digital manufacturing company still expects to deliver on its target of $12 billion in cash from industrial operations this year. Flannery has scheduled a Nov. 13 meeting to update investors on GE's outlook and the results of his initial review.
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The company, founded by Thomas Edison in the late 1800s, has "to consider everything," Jeff Sprague, a Vertical Research Partners analyst who noted that Baker Hughes (BHGE) - Get Report is positioned well for a possible spinoff, said in a telephone interview last week.
The Baker Hughes deal, completed earlier this year, left GE with control of the combined company, which is publicly traded. Other Wall Street analysts have suggested GE may consider selling assets from lighting to power conversion and even the locomotive division.
"The alternatives are to try to grind it out in a cost-cutting and portfolio-simplification story or to try something more dramatic," Sprague said. "Probably the odds favor the former, just restructuring and grinding it out, but I would think they have to be looking at things that could have a bigger effect on the company and change the narrative and change the trajectory of the portfolio.
GE climbed 0.7% to $24.35 in the wake of Monday's announcement. The shares have fallen 4.9% since Flannery took over on Aug. 1.
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