GE Orders Drop Amid Weakness for Locomotives, Oil-Field Gear

  • Company’s finance chief cites ‘world that’s pretty difficult’
  • Earnings, revenue beat analysts’ estimates for second quarter

General Electric Co. is selling fewer locomotives and less oil-field equipment as global economic uncertainty takes a toll on demand for big-ticket industrial products.

Orders fell 2 percent in the second quarter -- and tumbled 16 percent when stripping out acquisitions and currency effects -- the company said Friday. That drop and weak generation of free cash flow sapped investor confidence and pushed down shares.

While the total backlog increased, “the equipment backlog was down,” Chief Financial Officer Jeff Bornstein said in a telephone interview. “Our best estimate is the second half will be better than the first half, but that still reflects a world that’s pretty difficult.”

GE is betting on markets such as energy and aviation to help overcome economic malaise and global uncertainty highlighted by the U.K. vote to leave the European Union. Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Immelt has sold finance and consumer-focused operations while investing more heavily in its gas-turbine and jet-engine divisions, and building a complementary software business.

Stock Slides

GE fell 2.1 percent to $31.91 at 12:53 p.m. in New York, marking the biggest decline in the Dow Jones Industrial Average. The shares rose 4.6 percent this year through Thursday, while the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index. Shares of Honeywell International Inc. dropped as well, after the GE rival reduced its sales forecast for the year.

For coverage of Honeywell’s earnings, click here.

GE’s adjusted earnings rose to 51 cents a share, boosted by higher profits in the power and renewable energy divisions, the company said in a statement. That exceeded the 46-cent average of analysts’ estimates compiled by Bloomberg. Sales of $33.3 billion compared with $31.9 billion expected by analysts.

The profit included a gain of 20 cents a share after GE closed the sale of its appliances unit during the quarter. That was partially offset by 9 cents a share in restructuring charges and other items.

GE is grappling with “macro volatility” but strength in the power and aviation businesses will offset weakness in the oil and transportation divisions, Immelt said on a conference call.

Crude Slump

Second-quarter sales fell 22 percent for oil and gas as the company navigated an enduring slump in the global crude market. Revenue dropped 13 percent for the transportation unit, which makes locomotives and mining equipment. U.S. railroads are parking trains as carloads tumble.

“The texture of this quarter is very similar to the two most recent quarters, with exceptionally weak orders,” Nigel Coe, an analyst at Morgan Stanley, said in a note. GE must generate significant growth in the second half of this year in an “extremely challenging” environment, he said.

Total sales rose 15 percent, including a 31 percent increase in GE Power and a 28 percent advance in the renewable-energy unit.

Orders in GE’s digital unit rose 15 percent and revenue increased 17 percent. The company held an investor meeting during the quarter to highlight its rapidly expanding software operations, which GE sees as a complementary business that can enhance the value and productivity of industrial equipment.

Boston Move

The company wants to bolster its image in technology circles and boost its ability to recruit software engineers by relocating its headquarters to Boston from a longtime suburban home in Fairfield, Connecticut. The move, announced earlier this year, is slated for next month.

GE will relocate with a substantially smaller finance unit, after announcing $181 billion in lending-asset sales from early last year through the second quarter. The company plans to retain only the portions of GE Capital that support its industrial operations.

GE is looking to make acquisitions, particularly ones that would bolster its digital business or advanced manufacturing capabilities, Bornstein said. The company could also strike deals in the oil market, though bargains are tough to find, he said.

Pursuing Deals

“We’d like to do some things in oil and gas. One challenge is, the market seems to also believe that the oil and gas sector has more or less bottomed,” Bornstein said. “I wouldn’t describe most assets as being cheap, but we’ll continue to pursue opportunities where it makes sense.”

Operating earnings in 2016 will be $1.45 to $1.55 a share, GE said, reaffirming an earlier forecast. Organic revenue, which excludes the effects of M&A and foreign exchange, will rise as much as 4 percent, GE said.

Currency factors will lower earnings this year by 2 cents to 4 cents a share, GE said, after previously projecting a decline of about 2 cents.

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