General Electric ( GE) executives say they are not seeking an equity partner for the company's GE Capital unit -- a statement that is unlikely to quell growing speculation about an eventual partnership with a large bank. "I don't know what the scenario would be where we would entertain that," said CFO Keith Sherin, while GE Capital boss Mike Neal added, "I'm not focused on that. I don't think anybody here is." The statements came in response to a question from Deutsche Bank analyst Nigel Coe during a conference call Tuesday where executives gave investors a detailed look at GE Capital. Many GE watchers are concerned the unit is painting too rosy a picture of its loan portfolio, and will be unable to adjust to a tougher new regulatory environment without looking much more like a bank. Analysts including Sterne Agee's Nick Heymann have said they expect GE to eventually partner with a large bank such as HSBC Holdings ( HBC). Also on Tuesday, GE executives projected losses for 2010 will be similar to those it is projecting for 2009 -- a more favorable scenario than many analysts are predicting. GE has raised suspicions among investors and analysts as it has reported relatively small losses in areas like real estate and consumer lending that have stung banks like Citigroup ( C), Bank of America ( BAC), JPMorgan Chase ( JPM) and Wells Fargo ( JPM). GE has said this is because it has more conservative underwriting standards. Also, it says it does not plan to sell many of the loans it has on its books, so current market prices are irrelevant.
Analysts believe GE is merely delaying writedowns. When GE's losses reported in its July 17 earnings call were less than foreseen by Barclays Capital analyst Robert Cornell, Cornell merely added to his 2010 loss estimates. GE executives expressed positive sentiments about its U.S. consumer lending business. GE says it has extended $127 billion of credit to U.S. consumers since the start of 2008. GE said its commercial real estate business remains its most challenging. However, the head of the real estate business, Ron Pressman, reiterated the company's mantra in this area, stating that GE typically takes senior secured positions in its loan book, and shies away from riskier areas, such as construction lending. Funding has been a major concern for GE watchers. The company has said it will stop relying on the FDIC to guarantee its debt. GE Treasurer Kathy Cassidy laid out the company's funding plans through 2012, which include shrinking both short- and long-term debt exposures. GE shares were up fractionally to $12.40 in recent trading. -- Reported by Dan Freed in New York