Break-up? It's the one question GE (NYSE:GE) CEO Jeff Immelt never faces, though it's the only question investors should be asking.
At its present scale, GE may be too big to succeed. When you have $34 billion in sales each quarter, even orders of $14 billion for jet engines at a single Dubai air show won't move the needle. The sales, and revenue, will be spread out over years. So why not break it up, spin out something big, give your investors a chance to rise, or fail, in the market?
Immelt has spent a decade turning GE back into an industrial company, a role it had in the early 20th century, yet its growth and prospects still hinge on its success as a finance company. Its size insulates it from failure but investors also wind up insulated from success.
Take its latest move, a software center in San Ramon on which GE promises to spend $1 billion over the next three years. Seeking Alpha readers are being asked to consider this a big deal, but it is in fact just a recruitment center, and a marketing story. San Ramon will have 400 employees. GE has 5,000 software engineers.
GE's profitability hinges a lot more on whether it can continue avoding taxes than on its double-digit growth rate in emerging markets. It may be a great place to work, but the same can be said for the U.S. government.
Almost every day, it seems, GE signs a supposedly big new deal that will mean almost nothing to shareholders, because in relation to the whole, it has no impact:
A smart grid deal for Norcross, GA, deployed as a service.
A $200 million investment in an electric car company.
A $100 million deal to build a gigantic wind farm in Mongolia.
The purchase of a rail software company with sales of $45 million.
So to me there is only one question investors should be asking Jeff Immelt. When will you spin something out? When will you break up GE? Why should we leave money in your stock to die (down 25% over the last 10 years) when all we get is a 3.76% dividend yield we could just as easily get from a municipal bond, maybe tax-free?
At least we can vote out our government overlords. What can we do with those at GE?
Disclosure: I own some GE stock (200 shares), but maybe not for long.