The Independent Research Case for GE Shares to Go Back to $20 or Even Higher

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It is no secret that shares of General Electric C.. (NYSE: GE) have been in trouble and that there may be no easy fix for the conglomerate. Most investors have handily changed their views, and it remains well within the consensus pool of analysts and investors alike that GE’s opportunity remains a very long-term story rather than a short-term turnaround.

Argus is one of the few research firms with a Buy rating on GE shares. The firm also has a $20 price target, and that implies that GE shares have about 42% upside from the $13.99 post-earnings close on Friday. What makes the analyst call from Argus different is that this is an independent research call with no ties to investment banking and fees that traditional sell-side research may have.

Argus admits going in that the team has been disappointed with the steady flow of bad news and from management’s decision to cut the dividend late last year. The team also believes that management’s tactical steps being taken to reignite growth are unlikely to have an impact on earnings for at least several quarters. Argus also has been disappointed that GE shares were down 18% so far in 2018 while the Dow Jones industrial average has seen a 1% drop.

Looking further down the road, Argus believes that GE will look rather different in two to four years than it looks today. Again, the Argus call is one that is looking further out than just a 2018 story. Still, it does outline how GE shares eventually might even get back to $30, if it were to be valued like its traditional peer group. The report said:

Management’s strategic plan to sell up to 25% of the current portfolio and focus on the important verticals of Aviation, Healthcare and Power on the surface make sense. The old management team was unable to execute and is gone. The new team is now under enormous pressure to produce results. Though the first few months have been rocky, we are starting to see modest improvements in areas such as expense reduction and free cash flow. The shares also sell at value levels.

That said, GE’s first-quarter earnings of $0.18 per share beat the consensus forecast of $0.12, even if organic revenues fell 4%. CEO John Flannery telegraphed that industrial earnings, free cash flow and margins all improved from a year ago. This was effectively some of the first good news that GE shareholders have heard in months.

With 2018 guidance at $1.00 to $1.07 in earnings per share and free cash flow of $6 billion to $7 billion, Flannery is also making significant progress on the $20 billion of business carve-outs and separations from 2018 to 2019.

Argus also laid out the case that if GE’s earnings power gets closer to $1.50 again that the case could even be made for $30 per share on a relative valuation basis against peers. It also still admits that the technical story for GE’s stock chart remains bearish, with solid resistance up at $15. The firm’s new report shows GE valued at 14 times projected 2018 earnings. versus about 22 times for GE’s traditional peer group, while its dividend yield is higher. The firm said:

We think that GE’s earnings power – with an improved Power business – is closer to $1.50 than $1.00. If we apply an industry average multiple this estimate, the valuation is close to $30. However, we don’t think that GE can reach our EPS target until 2021 at the earliest, and are maintaining our target price of $20.

The Thomson Reuters universe covers sell-side research, so Argus is outside of that group. GE’s consensus analyst target from the sell-side is $17.42, but the median price target is actually $16.00. Both of these targets are lower than they were at the start of 2018, and they are down sharply from the first half of 2017. The consensus rating is also listed as Hold, as there are only five Buy and Outperform ratings, eight Hold ratings and three Sell or Underperform ratings.

Other research calls have been made on General Electric since its first-quarter earnings report on Friday. 24/7 Wall St. has tracked the following post-earnings calls:

  • Merrill Lynch maintained its Neutral rating and $17 price objective but noted that the earnings cleared a low bar and alleviated liquidity concerns.
  • Citigroup still has a Buy rating, but it lowered its price target to $22 from $23.
  • CFRA (S&P) has a Hold rating and a $16 price target.
  • Daiwa Capital Markets has a Neutral rating and kept its price target at $14, noting that risks remain even if cost cuts are driving a stronger start in 2018.
  • JPMorgan has an Underweight rating and a dismal $11 price target, and the firm said after earnings that the recent run-up already reflects a quarter that wasn’t a disaster.

GE shares were last seen up eight cents at $14.62 on Monday morning, and that is after a 4% gain to $14.54 (from $13.99) based on GE’s earnings beat. And to show what a $20 looks like in the grand scheme of things (or even that “maybe-ish” $30 level), GE’s 52-week range is $12.73 to $29.93, and it was a $30 stock for most of 2016.

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