What he has built is a global industrial concern, with 55% of revenue coming from outside the U.S., direct contacts with governments around the world, and with huge stakes in the key problems of that world: global health, the energy crisis and the automation of employment.
That's the context for Immelt's successful Alstom bid, of which our Richard Saintvilus approves, under which the company will launch three joint ventures partly owned by the French government and take over Alstom's turbine business.
Having a government as a partner, especially the French government, may seem off-putting to many Americans, but it is business as usual for Immelt's GE, which has been negotiating directly with governments in the developing world for years.
While many analysts have seen Immelt as building a company similar to Siemens (SI), the German industrial concern, it is more comparable to a Japanese company such as Sumitomo, which trades in Japan as number 8053. That's because Siemens has been making moves toward services, while GE has been making moves toward more industrial production.
Although GE itself remains headquartered in suburban Connecticut, its $18 billion-a-year health care unit is based in England, and its $37 billion-a-year energy unit was based in Atlanta until it was broken into three pieces in 2012.
The split came because of the energy business's growing complexity.
Even before the Alstom deal, GE was working directly with Hitachi on nuclear power, for instance.
GE's main units are energy management, dealing with electrical grids; oil and gas, focused on infrastructure rather than production; and power and water, where Alstom's turbine business will sit alongside its renewable energy and water purification units.
Investors who have steadily reinvested their dividends since Immelt replaced Jack Welch in September 2001, right before the 9/11 attacks, are just about breaking even. The stock is down 33%, but what you buy today has nothing to do with what you owned then.
The Welch concern was U.S. focused, with financial, entertainment and consumer products arms. The Immelt concern is an industrial infrastructure play. It's also not known for its U.S. defense business: Its $4.1 billion in U.S. defense contracts represent just 3% of total revenue.
Welch's company was a buy with a price-to-earnings ratio of about 50 at his retirement. Immelt's company is a buy, according to our analysis, with a P/E of about 16.
And this is just what investors may fear. Immelt's earnings are worth one-third of what Welch's were because they depend on international growth, and its ability to fuel international cooperation. GE is no longer a growth stock. Its 3.3% yield is what makes it a buy. Any earnings failure could kill that yield and send the stock tumbling.
Most of what the financial press writes about GE barely scratches the surface of Immelt's transformation.
GE Capital remains huge, with assets of $514 billion and 2013 profits of $8.3 billion. But its main purpose today is to facilitate the sale of GE industrial products. It's a global bank with operations in 55 countries.
Spinning off GE's North American consumer finance business as Synchrony Financial makes this clearer.
GE is a country unto itself, with revenue close to that of the nation of Hungary, and operations that are just as hard to comprehend.
But that's how GE has stayed on the Dow Jones Industrial Average for more than 125 years. Each CEO gets complete power to remake GE in his own image. He then passes it on to a successor who remakes it again. The constant change renews the company and keeps it young.
With Immelt, 58, now hinting at retirement, most speculation about a successor involves executives at energy units he focused on. Whoever is chosen, however, will likely get the same power Immelt got to turn GE into something else entirely.
GE was contacted for this story but offered no comment.
At the time of publication the author owned shares of GE.
This article represents the opinion of a contributor and not necessarily that of TheStreet or its editorial staff.
Now let's look at TheStreet Ratings' take on GE.
TheStreet Ratings team rates GENERAL ELECTRIC CO as a Buy with a ratings score of B. TheStreet Ratings Team has this to say about their recommendation:
"We rate GENERAL ELECTRIC CO (GE) a BUY. This is driven by some important positives, which we believe should have a greater impact than any weaknesses, and should give investors a better performance opportunity than most stocks we cover. The company's strengths can be seen in multiple areas, such as its revenue growth, good cash flow from operations, increase in stock price during the past year and expanding profit margins. We feel these strengths outweigh the fact that the company has had sub par growth in net income."
Highlights from the analysis by TheStreet Ratings Team goes as follows:
- GE's revenue growth has slightly outpaced the industry average of 0.6%. Since the same quarter one year prior, revenues slightly increased by 2.0%. This growth in revenue does not appear to have trickled down to the company's bottom line, displayed by a decline in earnings per share.
- Net operating cash flow has slightly increased to $4,961.00 million or 7.61% when compared to the same quarter last year. In addition, GENERAL ELECTRIC CO has also modestly surpassed the industry average cash flow growth rate of 3.59%.
- Compared to where it was 12 months ago, the stock is up, but it has so far lagged the appreciation in the S&P 500. Turning our attention to the future direction of the stock, it goes without saying that even the best stocks can fall in an overall down market. However, in any other environment, this stock still has good upside potential despite the fact that it has already risen in the past year.
- GENERAL ELECTRIC CO's earnings per share declined by 17.1% in the most recent quarter compared to the same quarter a year ago. This company has reported somewhat volatile earnings recently. But, we feel it is poised for EPS growth in the coming year. During the past fiscal year, GENERAL ELECTRIC CO increased its bottom line by earning $1.47 versus $1.38 in the prior year. This year, the market expects an improvement in earnings ($1.70 versus $1.47).
- The gross profit margin for GENERAL ELECTRIC CO is rather high; currently it is at 51.60%. Regardless of GE's high profit margin, it has managed to decrease from the same period last year. Despite the mixed results of the gross profit margin, the net profit margin of 8.82% trails the industry average.
- You can view the full analysis from the report here: GE Ratings Report