GE's Shadow Bank Moving Towards the Light

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- General Electric ( GE) learned its liquidity lesson during 1998 financial crisis, and concluded, "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" by moving from banking shadows into the light over the past four years.

While it may seem ironic to some investors, GE Capital is continuing to lower its liquidity risk by growing its bank deposits.

This may even lower the likelihood of another government backstop for the GE's finance arm, in the event of another major liquidity crisis, like the one we saw in late 2008.

In November 2008, GE announced that the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. had agreed to allow GE to participate in the regulator's Temporary Liquidity Guarantee Program, covering up to $139 billion in GE Capital debt, including long-term debt and commercial paper.

GE hinted at the time that it was desperate to hold down borrowing costs as liquidity tightened, saying its participation would "allow us to source our debt competitively with the other financial institutions that are eligible for the new FDIC program." The company also participated in the Federal Reserve's Commercial Paper Funding Facility, selling about $16 billion in commercial paper to the central bank.

The company -- which was not eligible to participate in the Troubled Assets Relief Program, or TARP, which featured direct equity investments by the government -- was careful to point out that its participation in the temporary was not a bailout, but that the program put the company "on a level playing field with other financial services companies who are eligible."

Four years on, these events may seem like ancient history, and GE Capital has returned to being a major profit center and source of capital strength for General Electric, paying a $3 billion dividend to the parent company during the second quarter.

without splitting hairs about what really constitutes a "bailout," it is plain that the company is bent on lowering its financial subsidiary's liquidity risk profile, in order to sail through the next economic crisis.

GE Capital had $558.8 billion in total assets as of June 30, shrinking 20% from $695.8 billion as of June 30, 2008. Over that five-year period, the finance company's short-term borrowings declined by 41% to $119.8 billion, while total bank deposits grew by 72%, to $41.9 billion, and $18.2 billion in deposits has maturities of one year or more.

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