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No, Buffett Is Not Buying GE
March 29, 2018 6:01 pm|Comments (0)

Yesterday, rumors began swirling that General Electric (GE) might be of interest as a significant investment, or even as a takeover candidate, from none other than Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.A) (BRK.B). So enthusiastic were investors that GE might finally catch a break that shares went up as much as 6.5% – no small sum that represents over half a billion in market capitalization.

Unfortunately, dreamers that bought GE are likely to be disappointed. Here’s why.

Buffett’s past with GE

Ten years ago, the Oracle of Omaha famously invested $ 3 billion in GE preferred stock at the height (or perhaps in the depths?) of the Great Recession. The preferred shares, superior in dividend preference to common stock but inferior to debt, came at a high price for ‘The General’: 10% interest per year in perpetuity. If GE wanted out, it could repurchase Buffett’s preferred stock at a 10% premium (which it did for a total of $ 4.1 billion, including dividends, in late 2011). As icing on the cake, Buffett’s Berkshire received warrants to purchase nearly 135,000 shares of GE’s stock at $ 22.25 per share.

If this sounds like a sweet deal for Buffett, you’re right – it borders on usurious. It’s good to be The Oracle, after all.

A struggling giant

Now, a decade later, GE is faced with a different problem. Macroeconomic storms have given away to microeconomic travails:

General Electric Selected Financial Results

FY 2015

FY 2016

FY 2017

Total Revenue

$ 117.4 billion

$ 123.7 billion

$ 122.09 billion

Gross Profit

$ 32.09 billion

$ 33.4 billion

$ 17.99 billion

SGA Expenses

$ 21.9 billion

$ 19.36 billion

$ 20.44 billion

Operating Income ( Loss)

$ 11.65 billion

$ 14.05 billion

($ 3.9 billion)

Net Income

($ 6.12 billion)

$ 8.83 billion

(5.8 billion)

Free Cash Flow

$ 12.58 billion

(7.44 billion)

$ 3 billion

Data Sources: General Electric, Scout Finance.

The winding down of GE Capital, as well as other “one-time items” has distorted GE’s net income. But, as Buffett’s teacher Benjamin Graham pointed out in The Intelligent Investor, why ignore such costs in valuing a business? Graham knew that a company of any reasonable size (and especially enterprises of GE’s scale) will ALWAYS have expenses like this crop up.

The more reliable figure for a quick-and-dirty analysis, free cash flow, is flashing an alarm bell (Fun fact: GE’s free cash flow, according to our friends at Scout Finance, came in at a whopping $ 15.12 billion in 2013 and a staggering $ 20.6 billion in FY 2014.) What a difference a few years makes.

Buffett knows this, and he will inevitably look to each division’s results for signs that the ship can be righted. Unfortunately, the prognosis here is not good:

GE Segment Revenues

Source: General Electric FY 2017 10-K.

General Electric Segment Profit

Source: General Electric FY 2017 10-K.

By shedding GE Capital, ‘The General’ was getting back to its industrial roots. Unfortunately, its industrial roots aren’t exactly growth businesses these days (save for Renewable Energy, but even that represents a small portion of the whole). Any buyout of GE means you get the whole thing – and the whole is not thriving.

John Flannery now leads the company, acknowledged to be a smart company man and touted as the man who turned around GE Healthcare. Alas, Healthcare’s performance over the past three years, the approximate period Flannery was at the helm, was not anything to write home about (see above).

Flannery seems to have the situation in hand (which unfortunately forced him to cut GE’s dividend and plan large cost cuts). The problem is that the situation is an extremely tough one and almost certainly not something Buffett would want to dive into. That is unless GE is willing to part with one of its top performing divisions, of course.

Buffett’s Cash Won’t Fix GE

Arguably, Buffett made his first millions as a distressed investor and turnaround artist. Anyone who has read just one of the numerous biographies of the man has no doubt heard the tale of Dempster Mill Manufacturing, GEICO, and even a New England textile manufacturer named Berkshire Hathaway.

But those days are over. Buffett wants to buy great businesses at fair prices – low stress is the name of the game.

Not only that but Buffett’s other well-known “opportune” investments in national brands (made at a time of distress) all had one of two characteristics: (1) The source of trouble is immediately solved with capital. The simple need for cash was the case with Buffett’s 1970s investment in GEICO when the company needed cash to survive, but the fundamental business of providing low-cost insurance to government employees remained intact. Once the capital infusion occurred, the insurance regulators backed off. Or (2), the business itself is excellent, but the company has a dark cloud over it. This was the case with Buffett’s investment in American Express (AXP) in the 1960s.

General Electric is different.

A pile of money won’t solve its woes (although that wouldn’t hurt given the company’s debt load) and most of its businesses are barely growing – if that. So, no, Buffett won’t be buying a massive stake in GE nor will be gobbling up the whole thing.

What you need to know

Buffett will not be riding in to rescue GE on a white horse.

Could I be wrong? Absolutely. Buffett has unmatched insights and access to information (how often do you suppose he and Flannery have talked in the past few months?). Combining any one of GE’s businesses with Berkshire’s could lead to significant cost savings – a potential source of upside that few possess. Or perhaps he could call up his friends over at 3G Capital for some good old fashioned zero-based budgeting magic.

But I doubt it.

It SOUNDS like the cap to a fantastic investing career. But it wouldn’t be Buffett. If anything, he’s talking to Flannery at the time of this writing about acquiring one of GE’s better performing industrial businesses. I can only hope Mr. Flannery takes a pass. The worst thing one can do in a crisis is make a deal on onerous terms, a lesson I can only hope GE learned in its previous dealings with Mr. Buffett.

Disclosure: I/we have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.

I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.

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General Electric Capitulates Offering Interim Buying Opportunity
March 28, 2018 6:02 pm|Comments (0)

It has been one hell of a year for General Electric (GE) and its beleaguered shareholders. Bullish investors have suffered mightily watching their funds evaporate as the stock fell 65%, punishing anyone in the name.

Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal published a relatively bearish article that allowed traders to pile on to the downside with the stock breaking the $ 13 level and trading down to $ 12.70. That matched a low not seen since the heart of the financial crisis.

I read the article but did not see a real reason to spin it as a sell sign. There was no new news there. In my view, this is the type of situation that happens when a stock is capitulating and media outlets pile on, kicking a company when it is down.

As I watched GE hit $ 12.70, I thought to myself, is this company needing a loan from Warren Buffett? No.

Are we in a financial crisis with a contracting economy? NO.

Is sentiment as bad as I have ever witnessed in GE? YES. I then pushed the buy button and added to an upside down position with reservations.

Here are few questions for the average investor to keep it simple.

  • Are conditions better for GE now than they were in 2009? I think the answer is yes.
  • Does GE have more or less shares outstanding than 2009? It has less shares outstanding.

Here is a chart showing the share count for interested investors.

Source: GE macrotrends

As you can see, the share count was over 10B in 2009, it is now around 8.6B shares.

  • Is the global market in which GE operates in recession? No, as a matter of fact, the world economy is growing in sync for the first time in over a decade.
  • Is the negative news overdone? Are we dealing in reality or is the market trading on fear?
  • Is there a positive catalyst that can take the stock higher? That is a little more difficult question to answer. For me, the answer is maybe.

GE has been a huge disappointment for many years. There have been hundreds of articles over the last few months about GE and all of its problems.

I would like to take a moment to focus on Price and entry points.

What is GE worth?

Today, the stock is worth $ 13.32 a share as I write this article. Yesterday, it was worth $ 13.23 to $ 12.70. I think the sell-off is way overdone, but the fear factor is real, and the margin calls are real.

My downside price target of $ 12.80 was hit yesterday. To me, it is worth $ 12.70. I bought it yesterday from $ 12.71 to $ 12.92. I may sell the rally, trading around my position and trying to get out with my scalp. I think the stock is worth around $ 15 to $ 18 a share by June 2019.

Bottom line is this: GE is a global digital business. The stock price will vary from day to day. Sometimes, it will trade at a significant discount to the business and its underlying fundamentals.

In my view, $ 12.70 represents a value that will cause the bulls to step in and stage a rally that could last into earnings.

Here is a look at a 10-year monthly chart.

In looking at the monthly chart above, one can see the sell-off in 2008 and 2009 and the 10 years that follow. Very few traders in the markets thought the stock could go down and break $ 13, but I did.

I wrote an article back in January stating more capitulation to come. In that piece, I wrote that GE could break $ 13 after hearing about the $ 22B GE Capital bombshell. I set a buy target of $ 12.80 back then and decided to stick with my unemotional thesis based on behavioral finance.

Important Note: GE only traded under $ 13 for a few short months in 2009 when the financial world was burning down and fear was everywhere. It is a very different world now, and in my view, GE is going to be fine.

Is GE a buy three months later at $ 13?

Maybe, if there is evidence of a solid sustainable turnaround and the clouds of uncertainty are raised. Right now, uncertainty is everywhere. There are far better stocks to buy that are going up, stocks with great earnings growth.

Mario Gabelli was buying GE in January at $ 16.

Two months ago, Kevin O’Leary said he would buy it at $ 13.

Now, Mr. wonderful just said on CNBC that he wants to buy the stock at $ 7 to $ 8. I get it. I have done the same thing many times. However, the market makes all of us look a little silly at times, and while GE may hit $ 8 a share, in my view, it is highly unlikely.

It is normal behavior to watch a stock get way oversold on highly negative sentiment and not be able to pull the trigger; only to watch it go on a quick 15% to 20% sharp rally with you on the sidelines.

This type of arrogant attitude is bullish to me as it may embolden shorts which could help the stock rally near term. He says “it can go to $ 8 easily.” I disagree. That was the height of hysteria, and the reason it went to $ 5.65 was a fake news story about BK, which was false. I bought it that day and owned it on March 9th when the market bottomed with a cost basis of $ 8.28.

It might be better to put your money into financials like Bank of America (BAC) under $ 28 or Citigroup (NYSE:C) on weakness. They are both growing earnings and raising dividends. Rising interest rates will do wonders for their bottom lines. Apple (AAPL) is a cash-generating monster with a continuing revenue stream and great margins.

The market is ignoring any positive news coming from GE at the moment

The new $ 1.3T government spending bill will likely be a huge positive for GE going forward. It stands to make some great profits on all different types of defense spending, which is totaling $ 700B. That is extremely bullish for GE and its future, but when a stock is in capitulation, many investors cannot ignore the noise.

Look at this slide from a JPM presentation showing what it makes for defense spending. The market is missing the boat with GE and its prospects for the future, in my opinion.

Bear case

GE Capital is going to be a drag on earnings for years to come. The $ 22B hit that the company took on the last conference call scared the hell out of most investors, including me.

Margins are getting squeezed with profits down 88% in the power division.

GE pension problems are out of control. (I disagree).

The Alstom acquisition is a disaster, and it will never be able to make the business model work.

SEC headlines in regard to GE Capital will remain a risk to the stock.

Bull case

Extreme pessimism around the stock is a contrarian play. GE has intrinsic value, but the market is not giving any value to GE as a company. Enterprise value is how much? Zero? I am not an expert, but as a long-term trader, I would give the company a minimum value of $ 5 for enterprise value, and in my view, that is conservative.

Aviation earnings should do great as worldwide jet engine growth spending ramps up over time.

Earnings report on April 20th should be terrible

I am expecting an earnings miss and more write-downs on the next call. I expect nothing good to come out of energy this fiscal year. This may be the worst quarter of the year for GE. Any positive news and clarity around GE Capital could pop the stock 10% overnight. A major earnings miss and investors could see a sell-off that takes the stock to new lows.

Conclusion

GE is in the dog house, although today is the biggest rally day in many years. The stock has hit a capitulation level that I believe could launch an interim rally as bulls force short covering going into earnings.

The company’s share count is over 2 Billion shares lower than 2009. The global economy is buzzing along with synchronized growth. While GE has problems, the company is slowly working through its issues.

I am not bullish on the name but believe that an interim rally point may have been reached at the $ 12.70 level. Today’s trading activity is a good sign for beaten-down shareholders suffering under years of bad management.

April 20th is the next report card for GE. Investors will be looking for clarity on GE Cap. and free cash flow growth. I see GE going nowhere fast as this year will be a reset. While I am long the stock, I will be looking to exit and hedge on rallies.

An announcement of a big-time investor like Warren Buffett could pop the stock 5% to 10% in a heartbeat. Investors will be watching closely to see who the new whale is jumping into GE.

Short squeezes are the start of many individual stock rallies, and they can happen very quickly and keep going, wringing out shorts. From there, improving fundamentals can take a stock higher.

As always, I encourage investors to do their own due diligence and make their own decisions and always have an exit strategy in place before making any trades.

Disclosure: I am/we are long GE.

I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.

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Major Banks Ban Buying Bitcoin With Your Credit Card
February 4, 2018 6:05 pm|Comments (0)

Most major U.S. credit card issuers have now banned the use of their cards to buy Bitcoin or other digital currencies, in a move intended to decrease both financial and legal risk.

Bank of America began blocking cryptocurrency purchases on Friday, according to Bloomberg. JPMorgan did the same on Saturday.

Citigroup also says it is halting cryptocurrency purchases on credit, and Capital One and Discover had already enacted their own bans. That means all of the top five credit card issuers have announced or implemented bans.

The moves are above all in the banks’ self-interest. As Fortune previously reported, the mania surrounding cryptocurrency late last year appears to have motivated many retail investors to use credit cards as leveraging tools, buying more cryptocurrency than they could afford. With Bitcoin down roughly 50% from December highs, many of those investors are likely underwater right now, and may not be able to pay off their initial Bitcoin purchases soon, if ever.

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Further, as Bloomberg points out, banks may be responsible for monitoring customers’ behavior to prevent money laundering after they make a credit-backed Bitcoin purchase, a tough standard for them to comply with.

The bans — or more to the point, the news of the bans — may exacerbate ongoing declines in cryptocurrency prices. After a hefty bounce Saturday morning, crypto markets broadly retreated on Sunday. Bitcoin is now trading at around $ 8,500 from a December high near $ 20,000.

In the longer term, however, tighter cryptocurrency investment controls, whether from regulators or lenders, seem likely to help mitigate the consequences of both hype and scams. For much of 2017, those threatened to overshadow the underlying promise of blockchain technology, which is still in the very early stages of evolution.

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4 Best Tech Stocks to Buy for 2018—Instead of Buying Bitcoin
December 7, 2017 12:30 pm|Comments (0)

Whereas railroads and Detroit automakers used to be the nuts and bolts of a well-rounded portfolio, today’s world runs on silicon chips and bits. There’s a reason Nvidia (nvda) has been one of the S&P 500’s best stocks two years in a row. The largest semiconductor maker by market capitalization is benefiting from virtually every tech trend—with its chips powering everything from Tesla’s self-driving cars, to Amazon’s and Microsoft’s cloud services, to the machines that mine the digital currency Bitcoin. Though Nvidia stock, at 47 times next year’s earnings, isn’t cheap, analysts expect revenue to soar 37% in the next fiscal year, justifying that price tag.

Ian Mortimer, comanager of the top-­performing Guinness Atkinson Global Innovators Fund, is bullish on Nvidia. Further down the supply chain, he also likes Applied Materials (amat), which manufactures the equipment to make the chips, and trades at just 14 times 2018 earnings. In the past, such stocks have traded at a discount because they tended to have long down-cycles—slow periods between, say, the new iPhone or PlayStation launch. But the boom in A.I.-driven technology means semiconductors are far less cyclical, if not entirely recession-proof. “The demand is coming from other places that didn’t use to exist—smart homes, smart cars, etcetera,” Mortimer says.

While Nvidia’s chips are used in “the brain of the car,” Mortimer says, he also owns German chipmaker Infineon, whose sensors facilitate a host of more practical functions—from automatically opening and locking doors to detecting obstacles—that are nevertheless increasingly essential to electric and modern vehicles from Tesla, BMW, and many others. Infineon trades at 25 times earnings.

For income-conscious investors, tech also has more dividend-paying stocks than ever. In 2000, when Microsoft and Cisco (csco) were the two most valuable companies in the S&P 500, neither paid a dividend. Now, Cisco, which paid its first dividend in 2011, yields more than 3%; the S&P 500 average is around 2%. What’s more, after being nearly written off as a washed-up “cash cow,” Mortimer says, Cisco expects revenue to grow this quarter for the first time in two years. Pushing into cybersecurity and cloud services has put Cisco on the precipice of a comeback—reminiscent, in a way, of where Microsoft (whose dividend yields about 2%) was a few years ago, when its transition to cloud computing was just beginning to revive its growth. “There’s also some reassurance in the staying power of the older stalwarts, Mortimer adds: “It gives you a little bit more of that diversification, without having all your eggs in very high-growth companies that may or may not come through.”

Here are more of our picks for 2018:

A version of this article appears in the Dec. 15, 2017 issue of Fortune, as part of the article “Investor’s Guide 2018 — Stocks and Funds: The All-Tech Portfolio.

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Salesforce Reportedly Considering Buying Twitter
October 1, 2016 5:05 pm|Comments (0)

People want to know: How could a news-messaging cloud service augment the Salesforce core business of customer-relationship management?


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Salesforce Buying Twitter Would Make Perfect Sense
September 29, 2016 12:11 pm|Comments (0)

Salesforce Buying Twitter Would Make Perfect Sense

Twitter has something Salesforce desperately needs. The post Salesforce Buying Twitter Would Make Perfect Sense appeared first on WIRED.
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Cisco, IBM may be interested in buying Imperva
September 27, 2016 7:10 am|Comments (0)

Security vendor Imperva is shopping itself around and may be attractive to the likes of Cisco and IBM, according to Bloomberg.

The Motley Fool reports that Imperva’s stock rose 20% today after Bloomberg’s report, which the Fool notes could actually drive buyers away because it would mean a more costly deal.

Bloomberg named a number of other possible buyers including Forecpoint (owned by Raytheon and Vista Equity Partners), Akamai and Fortinet.

To read this article in full or to leave a comment, please click here


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