General Electric dividend may not be safe, even after 50% cut: JPMorgan

Key Points
  • GE cut its dividend by 50 percent to 12 cents a share.
  • JPMorgan analyst C. Stephen Tusa says a "downturn" could put GE's dividend in danger again.
General Electric Chief Executive Officer John Flannery presents the company's new strategy and financial targets to investors at a meeting in New York, November 13, 2017.
Alwyn Scott | Reuters

General Electric's dividend could still be in danger even after the industrial giant slashed it in half, an analyst at JPMorgan said Tuesday.

"The cut was within the realm of possibility, and is fundable in the near term with debt and asset sales, though a downturn or spin/split would make for another chapter in this debate," JPMorgan analyst C. Stephen Tusa said in a note to investors.

GE cut its dividend by 50 percent to 12 cents a share on Monday, the largest dividend cut by a U.S. company outside of the financial crisis. Prior to Monday, GE had cut its dividend only twice since 1899. The cut was made as CEO John Flannery tries to turn around the 125-year-old conglomerate.

Cutting the dividend yield, which was the second-highest among Dow Jones industrial stocks, could give Flannery more capital to fund GE's turnaround but also could make long-time shareholders flee.

At current prices, GE's yield under the new dividend (effective in December) would be 2.5 percent.

GE on Monday also cut its 2018 earnings forecast to $1 per share to $1.07 per share.

Tusa said he was concerned because the new dividend "still represents a 65 percent payout."

GE is by far the worst-performing stock in the Dow this year, falling nearly 40 percent. It is also one of only six Dow components that were are lower for 2017 as of Monday's close. In contrast, the Dow has risen sharply this year, gaining 18.6 percent.

The company also issued profit and free cash flow guidance for 2018 on Monday that disappointed Wall Street analysts. GE also announced it would cut its number of board seats and that it will focus on its health care, aviation and energy businesses moving forward.

GE shares dropped 7.2 percent on Monday, marking their worst day since 2009. On Tuesday, the stock fell 2 percent in early trade.

"We, like Bulls, had expected more, and most notably the cost out targets here were not as ambitious as most expected," Tusa said.