A lot of good reporting has been done regarding the General Electric (GE) ‘fraud’ accusations, one of the better is which is this Bloomberg article. In summary, the accusations are that GE has under reported its reserves for its long term care business, and will be in need of more cash than would be expected.
My take on all this reminds me of my take on the Boeing problems. In that post I refer to anecdotal evidence that something was amiss with management.
While its been many years since I have worked for a GE company, my take on this is agree with the whistle-blower Harry Markopolos. In many ways it does remind me of the Bernie Madoff story. I don’t think Bernie Madoff started out to be a crook. I think many people bend the rules once they start to get into trouble, then keep bending, then bending until they are so deep they realize it would be financial ruin to come clean, so they just keep putting it off. I recall a client I worked for who had a startup with lots of investor money in the early 2000’s. He had a small company and staffed up to build a big company, and when the market turned the company imploded and exposed some financial misdoings he had committed to try to keep the dream alive.
So this is the parallel I draw with General Electric. I agree with the theory they have been bending the rules with financial reserves, back when they needed money to make their quarterly numbers. GE is full of financial engineers, and their previous CEO Jeff Immelt was very short term (read that bonus) focused. I am sure they thought that business would pick up and they would deal with the issue before it got out of hand, but when Immelt left the years of dirty laundry left behind by him has been exposed. I am in the camp that GE will end up in Chapter 11, especially if the economy continues to soften as GE tries to sell assets. The most accurate analyst on GE has been Stephen Tusa, and he has a price target of $5 on the stock.
General Electric, like Boeing, is a no-touch stock for me. While the new CEO of GE is much more capable than the prior leader, I think the damage has been done and the cupboard is empty. Now its time to just watch this disaster unfold from the sidelines.