Wall Street: No turnaround yet for General Electric despite earnings boost

Key Points
  • General Electric shares rose after the Dow component beat first-quarter earnings and revenue expectations.
  • But analysts are not convinced this is a turnaround for GE's stock.
  • Even those on Wall Street saying GE's results were "encouraging" do not believe the company will reach its 2018 earnings goal.
Analyst maintains 'sell' on GE despite earnings beat. Here's why

General Electric shares rose as much as 7 percent Friday after the Dow component's upbeat first-quarter earnings.

But few – if any – on Wall Street are calling it a comeback.

"There's absolutely no change to our thesis here," J.P. Morgan analyst Stephen Tusa told CNBC's "Squawk on the Street."

Tusa said GE's overall number for the quarter look "very good," as the company beat expectations for earnings per share and revenue.

"But when you start digging into the details, and you look at what they're saying is the future of the business, I kind of scratch my head as to how [the company] today is maintaining guidance," Tusa said.

Analysts at RBC Capital, Cowen and CFRA were less disparaging of GE's results but still gave repeated caution to believe the worst may be behind the industrial conglomerate.

"Headline results were encouraging, and certainly better than feared given worries about a potential full-year guidance cut," RBC analyst Deane Dray wrote.

RBC and Cowen took notice of GE's $1.5 billion reserve for a Justice Department investigation into the company's now-defunct WMC mortgage business as resolving one of several threats. Cowen compared GE's expected settlement to the $2 billion Barclays agreed to in March for a similar charge. The new information "mitigates some of the 'unknowns' from the ongoing investigation," Cowen's Gautam Khanna wrote.

With GE stock trading near $14.50 after earnings, Cowen maintained its price target of $12 — the second lowest to J.P. Morgan's $11 target. CFRA slashed its target to $16, a $2 move from its previous goal for the stock.

"We do not think it's worth wading into the shares despite the below-market valuation," CFRA analyst Jim Corridore wrote.

"Better than feared" can be found in Cowen and RBC's reports. But the same abject outlook as CFRA's permeated the conclusions in all the research. RBC's Dray called GE's affirmation of its 2018 earnings guidance a "big surprise," adding that his firm continues to hold an estimate of 92 cents, "notably below" GE's guidance of at least $1.

Even industrial analyst Brian Langenberg, a long-term bull with a $25 price target on GE, said he was "not impressed" by GE's results.

"The power business is supposed to be a major driver. The profitability dropped by almost 40 percent," Langenberg said of the first-quarter results. "Until you get power fixed, and they're nowhere close to getting that fixed, the stock only goes so far."

Tusa joined Langenberg in scrutinizing GE's power unit and called power's results "definitely worse than expected."

"It looks like they should have really cut guidance and we continue to believe there's downside to the numbers as we look out for the rest of the year," Tusa said.

The story of GE all comes down to the company's free cash flow, according to Tusa. Comparing GE to other, "high quality" industrial companies such as Honeywell, 3M and United Technologies, Tusa said GE's multiple reveals a value of "$10 to $11 per share."

"It's very simple math and it's coming into view," Tusa added.

Shares of GE have declined more than 52 percent over the last 12 months. On Friday afternoon, they were at $14.64, up 4.7 percent on the day.