Of the 12 firms that constituted the initial Dow Jones Industrial Average in 1896, General Electric Company (GE) is the only one yet on the list. For more than a century, it has been one of the most successful companies in the world, well-liked for its products, culture, and series of dedicated chief executives.
In 2015, GE assertively moved to wind down GE Capital, which was a considerable but volatile driver of earnings. After selling large portions of its financial business over the past few years, General Electric (GE) has finally shed the “too big to fail” designation. This is for the most part completed, and the residual specialty finance segments have understandable ties to the company’s principal industrial business, such as aircraft leasing. Investors should gain from a much smaller, better-capitalized GE Capital over the long run. Barclays analyst Scott Davis calls one remaining piece of GE Capital, GECAS, GE Capital Aviation Services, “a fantastic asset.” Barclays explains,
GECAS is a fantastic asset, making up more than half of the GE Capital verticals’ asset base and almost 3/4 of its profits/cash. Aircraft leasing is a lucrative and relatively stable business with favorable cyclical and secular market dynamics. The market is becoming an oligopoly with increasing concentration amongst a few key players, and GECAS is the clear leader. Large global players benefit from significant advantages, including large discounts to the latest next-gen aircraft and valuable relationships with top-tier airline customers. From a cyclical perspective, air traffic growth remains strong and lower oil has resulted in strong airline customer profitability. There are also secular tailwinds from a growing global middle class, as well as airlines increasingly choosing to lease their fleets.
During the Jack Welch tenure, General Electric benefited from the evolution of financial services in the American economy and the growth of GE Capital. That strategy backfired in 2008 with the arrival of the financial crisis. General Electric had no competitive advantage in financial services. If anything, their risk controls were even inferior to those at other large financial institutions.
Barclays also says GECAS is an asset that’s underappreciated by investors: “We estimate that GECAS will help deliver ~$1.3–1.4B in run-rate free cash flow going forward… not an insignificant amount relative to GE’s ~$9B Industrial FCF in 2016.”