Top Picks 2017: General Electric

01/11/2017 6:00 am EST


Benj Gallander

President, Contra the Heard

During the recession, it was much easier to find mega-conglomerates that fit our purchase criteria, but the upward march of stocks has significantly pared back the list of such candidates, notes Benj Gallander, editor of Contra the Heard.

General Electric (GE) — our Top Pick for conservative investors in 2017 — continues to play musical chairs, buying and selling subsidiaries and divisions like the Tasmanian Devil hooked on speed.

While some analysts may feel they have a good fix on the numbers and can tally pro forma statements like an astrologer dialed into the future, our powers of divination are misty. There are simply too many moving parts.

This is no niche player. That CEO Jeffrey Immelt keeps track of them all is a Herculean feat. Annual revenues are enormous, at $117 billion. Earnings this past quarter were a feisty $2 billion. The backlog of $319 billion is a record.

If margins are healthy, the bottom line should be lusty, and a recent dividend increase added to the ongoing investor returns. At the current $0.24 cents per quarter, it is lovely to collect, but that’s a far cry from the high-water mark of $0.31 cents.

One arena where this firm is being attacked is in the tax realm. Currently, the company is in the throes of moving its head office from Connecticut to Massachusetts — Boston, to be precise.

The fact that Connecticut has raised corporate taxes five times since 2011 is obviously a key driver, while the Bay State accompanied Boston by offering incentives of $145 million to draw GE into the fold.

Technically, GE’s stock price has recovered nicely since the recession. However, it sits just under half the peaks scaled during the technology bubble.

There’s still lots of potential upside, but we caution that the state of the global economy overall is critical to this corporation’s results.

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