The industrial company does have a newfound ability to hike debt in order to fund substantial acquisitions -- thanks to CEO Jeff Immelt's yearlong campaign to scrap GE's regulatory branding of being a "too big to fail" financial institution. But the company has put aside a mere $3 billion placeholder for M&A activity this year. (And that's a far cry from last November's roughly $10 billion acquisition of French turbine manufacturer Alstom's (ALSMY) grid businesses.)
GE only reported about $206 million of cash spent in the first half of the year, a pretty nominal figure vs. the $1.4 billion that GE said Tuesday will be used to acquire two 3-D printing companies (Sweden's Arcam and Germany's SLM Solutions), as well as the roughly $250 million GE announced in May that will be used to purchase the steam-generator businesses of Doosen Engineering & Construction, and the undisclosed sum GE said it will spend in July for the bio-processing systems of Switzerland's Biosafe, which analysts have since estimated will clock in at about $200 million.
If all of these acquisitions close in 2016, GE will have spent more than $2 billion of the M&A allowance the company has used to guide investors, suggesting (as Real Money reported) that investors should expect smaller tack-on deals that are accretive to GE's existing businesses.
And this strategy is reflected in the way Jeff Immelt said on a Tuesday call with analysts that GE's new foray into 3-D printing can save up to $5 billion by 2020 by helping to build GE's cloud-based Predix operations. Predix forms the central pillar of the company's so-called Industrial Internet: a combination of machine sensors and proprietary software that is aimed to save billions of dollars by optimizing the industrial performance on machines from jet engines to wind farms and rail cars to sub-sea drilling operations.
Jim Cramer and Action Alerts PLUS co-manager Jack Mohr said in a Tuesday note that GE's purchase of the 3-D printing businesses -- which also helped buoy industry peer 3D Systems (DDD - Get Report) about 5% in Tuesday trading as M&A speculation mounts -- is a comparatively small deal. But it helps offer a window into GE's longer-term strategy.
"GE has a market cap approaching $300 billion, so a $1.4 billion deal is not especially material," Cramer and Mohr said. The "main motivation" behind the deal is the $3 billion to $5 billion in expected savings through 2020, they added, as well as the benefits to scale in the burgeoning industry of additive manufacturing.
GE shares were down about 1% in Tuesday trading and Cramer and Mohr said that is largely due to the "relatively undetermined financial implications from the deals over the next couple of years." They reiterated "confidence in the long-term vision."
GE is also a holding of Dividend Stock Advisor. Its portfolio manager, David Peltier, commented in a Tuesday investment note that GE will primarily use its acquired technology to produce jet engine parts at a rate of about 100,000 a year by 2020.
"Much like Ford Motor's (F - Get Report) announcement of investing in autonomous vehicles, these acquisitions by General Electric have an eye toward future growth, rather than near-term results," Peltier said.
Editor's Note: This article was originally published on Real Money at 1:52 p.m. on Sept. 6.