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Moody's cuts GE credit rating because of 'extreme deterioration' in energy business

Key Points
  • Moody's Investors Service cut GE's long-term debt rating, citing "extreme deterioration" in the energy business.
  • The cut is from A1 to A2, which still keeps the company's bonds in the investment grade category.
  • Moody's move comes the same week that GE announced it was slicing its dividend in half and imposing a number of other changes.
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Citing the "extreme deterioration" in the company's energy business, Moody's Investors Service on Thursday downgraded General Electric's long-term debt.

The ratings agency knocked the senor unsecured bonds down to A2 from A1, which is still investment-grade debt but is now six steps away from Moody's highest rating. A2 is considered upper medium grade.

The move comes the same week that GE rocked investors with news that it was slashing its dividend in half and making a multitude of other changes at the 125-year-old industrial conglomerate. GE shares were rocked on the news and are down nearly 10 percent on the week.

Moody's indicated that it's unlikely GE makes the changes anytime soon that will justify the former rating on its bonds.

Specifically, Moody's takes GE to task for using $25 billion from asset sales in 2016 and 2017 to repurchase stock in an effort to boost share price, taking out $10 billion of debt to fund acquisitions, and paying out a dividend higher than cash flows and as the company was downsizing key operations.

"The downgrades reflect the severe deterioration in the financial performance of GE's Power segment that will last through at least 2019," Rene Lipsch, senior credit officer, said in a statement. "Along with the challenges in the Oil & Gas business posed by continued weakness
in the global oil field services industry and the downturn in the North American market for freight locomotives, GE has to contend with weak earnings and cash flows in several segments that represent in aggregate about 50% of expected revenues in 2017."

During Monday's investor day presentation, GE CEO John Flannery said the energy business is "challenged." Officials indicated that GE would be exiting the oil and gas industry while still maintaining its footprint in other sectors.

GE Power CEO Russell Stokes said the unit was looking for $1 billion in cost cuts as it seeks to offset some missteps in equipment purchases. Stokes also said his unit is lowering the amount of equipment it expects to sell in 2018.

"Moody's does not anticipate that GE will allocate a meaningful portion of any proceeds from planned asset disposals to debt reduction in the near term to help expedite the restoration of its credit metrics," Lipsch said. "Over the last several years, GE pursued an aggressive financial policy that contributed to the weakening of its credit profile."

Still, Lipsch said GE remains a "formidable industrial enterprise." The company also received plaudits for the dividend cut and its stated desire to focus on the growing aviation business.

GE shares traded slightly higher after Moody's released the ratings news. Company officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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