GE CFO: The dividend cut is about improving total shareholder return

Nicole Sinclair
Markets Correspondent

General Electric’s (GE) newly unveiled strategic road map was not well-received by markets, with GE shares falling almost 8% on Monday. The conglomerate’s announcement to narrow its business focus to three core units did not go as far as some analysts expected. Meanwhile, the company’s decision to slash its dividend in half wasn’t good news for investors, particularly those who relied on the income.

Chief Financial Officer Jamie Miller told Yahoo Finance the dividend cut was an important reset as the company enters a new era.

“We felt we needed to take a step back and really set the dividend at a level that was an appropriate payout ratio for us and one, frankly, that was more inline with our peers,” Miller told Yahoo Finance.

The dividend cut to $0.12 per share from $0.24 aligns the company’s payout with its less robust free cash flow, which is expected to be $6 to $7 billion next year versus initial expectations for $12 to $14 billion.

Miller emphasized, though, this reset should be thought of in the context of broader shareholder return and enabling the stock price to improve over time with better targets.

“We’re really looking at a total shareholder return profile for the company,” she said.  “In addition to dividend, looking at capital allocation along the lines of other things like M&A, organic investment and buybacks so that we can so dividend income as well as accretion in the stock over time.”

Miller, who stepped into the CFO role two weeks ago after a decade at the company, said one of her biggest surprises were the deeper issues in the Power business, which has had the most significant impacted to cash flow.

GE also announced new financial targets for next year that stand significantly below prior goals. GE sees EPS of $1.00 to $1.07 per share versus the long-held $2.00 target for 2018.

Portfolio refocus… but is it enough?

GE began its “reconstruction phase,” as RBC put it, under new CEO John Flannery on Monday, by announcing its narrowed focus to three business units—Aviation, Healthcare Equipment and Power—which account for about 60% of the company’s revenue.

But heightened expectations for a complete overhaul may not have been met, even as the company has announced it will divest $20 billion of assets over the next one to two years. (The company will be shedding its locomotives and lighting business either via sales or spin-offs, and is also looking at shedding its majority stake in Baker Hughes.)

Miller said the business units, and the transformation progress, will continue to be analyzed going forward.

“I think any time you’ve got a collection of businesses, there never is a forever. You are constantly looking at the portfolio in the markets they serve and how they fit and whether they make sense. I think of this as a bit of a journey. We’ve got the next two or three years in front of us,” Miller said. “But it’s also something we’ll revisit over time.”

GE CFO Jamie Miller sits down with Yahoo Finance’s Nicole Sinclair to talk about the company’s investor day, dividend cut and new strategic focus

Miller also acknowledged that investors have increasingly focused on pure play and focused opportunities, as a trend of breaking up companies has been taken over, particular in the industrials space.

“There are good reasons for businesses being together, but in terms of over time, investors do look to invest in specific sectors and that’s a consideration,” Miller said.

A “reset year”

Flannery, who told a roundtable of reporters he was not surprised the stock sold off today, emphasized that 2018 is a “reset year.”

And Miller said she believes the company is entering a new era under Flannery.

“We’ve always in GE dealt with big hard problems that we’re solving, big technologies, we’ve navigated cycles and technology, but the fingerprints of a leader really start a new chapter.”

But with the stock down almost 40% year to date, investors have shown they are impatient, particularly following 16 years with Jeff Immelt at the helm and ill-timed deals in oil and power, particularly the $10 billion Alstom deal.

Flannery emphasized in the investor day he will focus on smaller acquisitions with less risk while transforming the portfolio.

Even with pressure from Trian’s Nelson Peltz and a reset in targets, and a smaller and new board on the way, some analysts question if these moves will be enough. Time will tell.

Nicole Sinclair is markets correspondent at Yahoo Finance

Please also see:
Secretary Mnuchin: Corporate tax cuts are about bringing jobs back to the US
Benioff: Companies like Facebook and Twitter must take ‘full responsibility’ for what they’ve created
Marc Benioff: We can’t leave anyone behind during the ‘fourth industrial revolution’
Mellody Hobson: Diversity isn’t about do-gooderism—it’s about the bottom line
Former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis: ‘America doesn’t have a debt problem’

By using Yahoo you agree that Yahoo and partners may use Cookies for personalisation and other purposes