There is no shortage of strong opinions on Wall Street about General Electric stock. Morgan Stanley entered the debate on Thursday adding its voice to the chorus. Analyst Joshua Pokrywinski sees lots of opportunity for investors, but much risk, too. As a result, he initiated coverage of GE stock at Equal-weight, the firm’s equivalent of Hold, with a $10 price target.
Other GE stock (ticker: GE) price targets on the Street range from $5 to $15 a share. The $10 spread is more than 110% of GE’s stock price. The average bull-bear spread for other stocks in the Dow Jones Industrial Average, by comparison, is about 40%. GE analysts, to say the least, are very polarized.
Of course, that’s because there is a lot going on at GE. New CEO Larry Culp called 2019 a “reset year” and is working to turn around operations, particularly in the power business, as well as reduce the size of GE Capital, the company’s finance arm. GE Capital also houses the GE long-term care insurance book of business which has come under fire recently after forensic accountant Harry Markopolos claimed GE’s insurance accounting was fraudulent. GE has dismissed the claims as “meritless” and an attempt at “market manipulation.”
Morgan Stanley’s Pokrywinski believes Culp’s early steps are yielding positive results, but it isn’t enough for him to recommend the stock. “We believe most of the uncertainty in the shares resides outside the core business,” he writes in a Thursday research report. That makes GE stock “less of a fundamental call.”
The troubled long-term care insurance portfolio is “outside the core.” It’s a key risk all Wall Street analysts are considering. “We don’t endorse the bear case [on the portfolio] so much as acknowledge the lack of near-term resolution,” writes Pokrywinski. He believes the earliest time investors can get more comfortable with insurance assumptions is the first quarter of 2020, when the insurance annual cash-flow test is done for insurance regulators. “Our base case assumes an additional $4.3 billion of contributions beyond what management has outlined,” adds the analyst.
It isn't clear how another cash drain for insurance would be received by investors. If, for instance, the insurance issue was totally put to rest, even a $4 billion-plus charge would likely be positive for shares. GE committed $15 billion to shore up insurance reserves in early 2018, and the company has about $9 billion left to contribute over the next several years.
While uncertainty keeps Pokrywinski Hold rated, he is bullish on the aerospace business. According to the analyst, GE Aviation is entering a “golden age,” defined as a period of revenue growth and expanding margins. Engine makers, such as GE, often sell new models at low margins and make more money servicing engines over their useful lives. GE’s newest aircraft engines, the LEAP and GE9X, are both early in their life cycles. Aerospace accounts for about 27% of industrial sales.
The wide range of potential outcomes for all the moving parts inside GE are reflected in the company’s recent stock performance. Shares have ranged from a high of $13.78 to a low of $6.66 over the past year. All the volatility keeps many investors, and many Wall Street analysts, watching from the sidelines.
GE stock was up 2.4%, at $9.01, in Thursday afternoon trading, while the Dow was up 1.7%