Immelt Shows GE Has Learned Its Lessons

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- General Electric ( GE) is preparing a spinoff of its U.S. consumer finance business, according to a Wall Street Journal report, which will take the company way beyond CEO Jeff Immelt's previous plans to shore up GE Capital.

According to the report, GE will spin off the unit through a public offering, which is being worked on by JPMorgan Chase ( JPM) and Goldman Sachs ( GS).

Spinning off the U.S. consumer finance business would lower GE Capital's assets by $50.2 billion. More importantly, it would lower unused credit commitments by over $275 billion, greatly strengthening the finance unit's liquidity profile.

Most of the consumer finance assets to be spun off are private label credit card accounts, in partnerships with retailers, including Wal-Mart ( WMT) and Gap ( GPS) unit Banana Republic.

GE Capital had $515.5 billion in total assets as of June 30, declining from $558.8 billion a year earlier. At the end of 2008, GE Capital had total assets of $660.9 billion. GE Capital had traditionally relied on commercial paper for funding, but late in 2008 liquidity dried up and the unit was forced to rely on the Federal Reserve's Commercial Paper Funding Facility and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.'s temporary guarantees of newly issued long-term debt.

GE Capital's ending net investment (ENI), excluding non-interest bearing liabilities, cash and equivalents, was $391.2 billion, declining from $402 billion the previous quarter. The company had been saying its ENI goal was $300 billion to $400 billion, but Immelt at a conference in May set a new ENI goal of $300 to $350 billion. The unit also improved its liquidity profile, with $48.6 billion of bank deposits gathered through its bank subsidiaries, increasing from $36 billion at the end of 2008.

GE Capital has traditionally been in the business of providing financing to General Electric's industrial customers, providing support for the parent company's sales efforts, while making the most of customer relationships. But consumer finance receivables totaled $110.9 billion as of June 30, or 43% of the unit's total finance receivables of $262,380.

Spinning off the U.S. credit card and consumer installment loan receivables would lower finance receivables by $50.2 billion, while also lowering the company's long-term liquidity exposure by removing a whopping $276.8 billion in unused consumer revolving credit lines.

GE CFO Keith Sherin said during GE's first-quarter earnings call in April that "we have got over $60 billion of non-core assets. We continue to run those off." With GE Capital's ENI declining by roughly $11 billion during the second quarter, there's roughly $49 billion in noncore assets continuing to run off, and a completed spinoff of another $50 billion in U.S. consumer loans would be the icing on the cake.

So GE appears to be ready to trim much more of GE Capital's liquidity risk exposure than previously expected. This is critically important for the company, since its finance unit is now under Federal Reserve supervision as a systemically important non-bank financial company, and will have its dividend payments to the parent company subject to review through the regulator's annual stress tests, beginning in March 2014.

GE declined a request for comment. The company's stock was up 1.5% in premarket trading to $23.45.

More on the Stock

GE in February increased its common share buyback authorization to $35 billion from $25 billion. Immelt has previously said the company's 2013 share repurchases would total about $10 billion. The company last month said that through the second quarter it had "returned $9.9 billion to investors year-to-date through dividends and share buybacks."

General Electric's shares closed at $23.11 Thursday, returning 12% year-to-date, following a 21% return during 2012.

Based on a quarterly payout of 19 cents, the shares have a dividend yield of 3.29%.

The shares trade for 12.7 times the consensus 2014 EPS estimate of $1.82. The consensus 2015 EPS estimate is $2.00.

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-- Written by Philip van Doorn in Jupiter, Fla.

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Philip W. van Doorn is a member of TheStreet's banking and finance team, commenting on industry and regulatory trends. He previously served as the senior analyst for TheStreet.com Ratings, responsible for assigning financial strength ratings to banks and savings and loan institutions. Mr. van Doorn previously served as a loan operations officer at Riverside National Bank in Fort Pierce, Fla., and as a credit analyst at the Federal Home Loan Bank of New York, where he monitored banks in New York, New Jersey and Puerto Rico. Mr. van Doorn has additional experience in the mutual fund and computer software industries. He holds a bachelor of science in business administration from Long Island University.