GE slashes 119-year old dividend to a penny

Posted October 30, 2018 6:53 a.m. EDT
Updated October 30, 2018 7:21 a.m. EDT

— General Electric is under such financial stress that new CEO Larry Culp is slashing the troubled conglomerate's 119-year-old dividend to just a penny a share.

GE revealed on Tuesday worse-than-expected results and a $22 billion accounting writedown for its beleaguered power division. Culp plans to split up the power division to accelerate a turnaround.

In a bid to fix GE's debt-riddled balance sheet, Culp announced the company will cut its quarterly dividend from 12 cents a share starting in 2019. By paying just a token dividend, GE (GE) will save about $3.9 billion of cash per year.

Analysts had been anticipating a potential dividend cut, though not one of this magnitude.

It's an especially painful move for a company that long viewed its stable dividend as a source of pride. But years of bad decisions forced GE to halve its dividend last November for just the second time since the Great Depression. The dividend cuts deal a blow to the many GE retirees and mom-and-pop shareholders who long relied on the cherished payouts.

"We are on the right path to create a more focused portfolio and strengthen our balance sheet," Culp said in a statement.

Culp, who was suddenly named CEO on October 1, promised to move "with speed to improve our financial position."

Dividend cuts are very rare these days, because the US economy is booming. Most companies, flush with cash from tax cuts, are ramping up their dividends. At least 291 S&P 500 companies have hiked their dividend so far this year, according to Howard Silverblatt of S&P Dow Jones Indices. Just two S&P 500 companies had cut their dividend as of early October, Silverblatt said.

GE's power division remains the biggest source of trouble at the company. Revenue tumbled 33% last quarter due to "continued market and execution challenges." GE Power swung to a loss of $631 million, compared with a profit of $464 million the year before.

GE Power, which makes turbines for power plants, has been caught badly off guard by the shift away from coal and gas in favor of renewable energy. Under former CEO Jeff Immelt, GE doubled down on fossil fuels by spending $9.5 billion in 2015 to acquire Alstom's power business. The deal turned out to be a disaster, underscored by the $22 billion goodwill impairment charge recorded last quarter.

GE said on Tuesday it will reorganize the power business by creating two units, one focused on natural gas and the other holding the steam, nuclear and other assets. And Culp, who was known for running a tight ship at Danaher, plans to "consolidate" GE Power's headquarters structure.