The explosion of new regulations on business and the "unprecedented" level of uncertainty about Washington's budget negotiations will keep the the U.S. from achieving its "full growth potential," General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt said in a letter to shareholders Monday.
Immelt cited the government's fiscal situation, the repeated debt-limit controversy and tax reforms as the "political storms" that "will impact capital investment."
"The amount of regulation tends to grow during periods of financial strain and we are certainly seeing that in the U.S.," Immelt said, "The number of 'major regulations'—regulations with more than $100 million in impact—has exploded in the last few years. The result has been an additional burden on business. Until we solve for these constraints, it is hard to see that the U.S. will return to its full growth potential."
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Immelt called 2013 "another typical year in the Reset Era," pointing to economic strength in emerging markets, including renewed growth and reform in China, while the U.S. is in "unprecedented territory" when it comes to fiscal uncertainty. He called that "a major source of volatility in corporate planning." This uncertainty, he said, is "something I never thought I would see."
Despite these storms, GE remains committed to returning cash to its shareholders. "In total, we plan to return $18 billion to investors this year through dividend and buyback," the letter said. Since 2000, GE has paid out $106 billion in dividends, which the company said is more than any other company except for Shell.
Immelt estimates that the company will generate $100 billion that will be allocated to dividends over the next few years, "including cash from existing operations, dividends from GE Capital and dispositions."
Immelt also outlined a "shale gas revolution" and predicted that his company will be positioned "to make compressed natural gas (CNG) more accessible as a transportation fuel," through work with Chesapeake Energy.
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"The volume of and access to shale gas and other unconventional resources in the U.S. (and other regions) will change the competitive balance in energy for a generation," the letter said.