General Electric (GE - Get Report) CEO Larry Culp said Tuesday that free cash flow from the conglomerate's industrial division is likely to remain negative this year but insisted the troubled group would accelerate its ongoing restructuring plan.
Speaking at the JP Morgan Aviation, Transportation & Industrials conference in New York, Culp also said margins in GE healthcare would be similar to those recorded in 2018, with organic revenue in the low to mid-single digit range.
Culp noted that total revenue from the group's power division would be at flat at best, but would likely decline at a mid-single digit pace this year, while insisting GE needed to "step up restructuring" in both that division and the broader industrial group. In power, GE said it sees "market pressures impacting volume" as well as "project and execution challenges", according to materials used in the presentation.
GE shares were marked 5.35% lower following the comments and changing hands at $9.82 each by mid-afternoon in New York, a move that still leaves the stock with a gain of around 35% over the past three months.
Culp has vowed that 2019 would be a "year of change" for the struggling group, and pledged to focus on both developing GE's critical power business while reducing debt through asset sales and spin-offs.
He also said the company's dividend, which was slashed to just one penny last year amid a series of profit warnings, asset write-downs and broader investor skepticism, allowed GE to retain around $4 billion in cash but would be returned to an industry-competitive level once the balance sheet was stabilized.
"Simply put, we have too much debt and we need to reduce it thoughtfully and soon," Culp said earlier this year. "Once we put our balance sheet in a healthier place, we'll be in a better position to play offense across all our businesses."
Culp, in only a few months at helm of the struggling group, has raised more than $21 billion through the sale of GE's biopharma unit to his former company, Danaher Corp. (DHR - Get Report) , and pledged to shed the group's healthcare division and reduced its stake in Houston-based oil services group Baker Hughes (BHGE - Get Report) .
However, JP Morgan's Stephen Tusa, one of the most influential analysts on Wall Street and long-time critic of GE's flagging business model, has argued that while the $20.5 billion in cash GE will get from Danaher was more than many had expected, it still leaves GE Heathcare as an asset that is "short on growth, with an implied total EV that is below" based Tusa's recent analysis, with around $17 billion in annual revenues and operating margins "in the mid-teens".
As a result, Tusa held his price target on GE unchanged at $6 per share last week, cautioning that the biopharma sale unmasks "the underappreciated enterprise cash burn we see at sustainably in the $2 billion range" even with the extra $3.5 billion the sale generates compared to earlier plans to float around 20% of the healthcare division through and initial public offering.
"As we have said before, this is NOT about liquidity, this is about the company raising cash by selling earnings to reduce leverage and liabilities," Tusa said in a note published last Wednesday, which also lowered the 202 earning estimate by 7 cents to 30 cents per share. "While a core business burns cash, even including Healthcare, which we address below, after which we provide our analysis around Healthcare."