GE hastens retreat from consumer lending

NEW YORK (The Deal) -- General Electric  (GE) on Thursday filed to take its sprawling North American consumer lending business public, continuing a post-recession push by CEO Jeffrey Immelt to reduce the conglomerate's financial services exposure in favor of its industrial and health care segments.

Fairfield, Conn.-based GE filed placeholder documents with the Securities and Exchange Commission to sell part of Synchrony Financial in the second half of 2014. The company said previously it intends to initially sell a minority stake in the firm to the public before then distributing remaining shares to GE investors.

Synchrony, which previously was called GE Capital Retail Finance, operates store credit card programs for merchants, including Wal-Mart Stores  (WMT) and Amazon.com (AMZN).

The company in a statement said it hopes to completely exit the retail finance business by 2015, noting that despite the filing it could decide to instead sell the business or dispose of it in some other form. Synchrony, according to the filing, has about 62 million active accounts, earning $1.98 billion in 2013 on about $93.9 billion in consumer purchases.

GE under Immelt has been steadily shrinking its massive GE Capital operation in the years since the unit almost sank the company during the financial crisis. In its place, General Electric has been growing its energy and healthcare units, announcing plans this year to acquire the compression unit of Cameron International  (CAM) for $550 million and certain life science assets of Thermo Fisher Scientific (TMO) for $1.06 billion.

While GE Capital originally was set up to help would-be customers finance big-ticket purchases of General Electric industrial equipment, the consumer and retail finance operations were a later bolt-on as the unit aggressively expanded into new markets.

Goldman Sachs (GS), JPMorgan Chase (JPM), Citigroup (C), Morgan Stanley (MS), Barclays plc, Bank of America Merrill Lynch (BAC), Credit Suisse Group and Deutsche Bank Securities are listed as underwriters on the offering.

Weil, Gotshal & Manges' David S. Lefkowitz and Corey R. Chivers are working with Stuart C. Stock and David B. H. Martin of Covington & Burling LLP to provide legal advice to the company along with Synchrony general counsel Jonathan S. Mothner. Richard J. Sandler and John B. Meade of Davis Polk & Wardwell are listed as underwriter counsel.

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