GE shares fall as SEC and DOJ expand investigations of accounting practices

Key Points
  • The SEC is widening its probe of GE's accounting practices, the company revealed Tuesday.
  • GE's $22 billion noncash charge in the third quarter is also being investigated by the Department of Justice, GE CFO Jamie Miller said.
'We'll see more bold action' from GE after dividend cut, says pro
'We'll see more bold action' from GE after dividend cut, says pro

General Electric said the Securities and Exchange Commission was widening its probe of the accounting practices of the industrial conglomerate to include a $22 billion charge the company took in the third quarter related to acquisitions made in its power business.

"The SEC expanded the scope of its ongoing investigation to include the goodwill charge," said GE's Chief Financial Officer Jamie Miller on the company's third-quarter earnings conference call. "The Department of Justice is also investigating this charge and the other areas we have previously reported are part of the SEC's investigation. We are cooperating with the SEC and DOJ as they continue their work on these matters."

GE's stock fell as far as $9.87 a share in trading, ending the day down 8.8 percent at a new nine-year low of $10.18 a share. Shares had jumped as much as 2 percent in premarket trading after GE announced its earnings results and dividend cut.

"At the end of the day GE evokes aggressive accounting. The fact that the SEC is in there, and we know that they've expanded the scope of what they're looking at, means it could lead to further expansion," Gordon Haskett's John Inch told CNBC. "The SEC can ultimately look at anything they want."

The SEC opened an investigation of GE's accounting practices in the wake of the company's review a year ago of its GE Capital insurance portfolio. The SEC's initial probe was looking at both the $6.2 billion after-tax charge GE took in the fourth quarter of 2017 as well as the $15 billion reserve increase GE would make to shore up the GE Capital portfolio. Miller disclosed in January that the SEC would look at GE's revenue recognition and its controls for long-term service agreements.

ETFs to watch as GE slashes dividend
ETFs to watch as GE slashes dividend

The DOJ has met with GE this year to discuss the agency's ongoing investigation into GE's now defunct WMC mortgage business. GE set aside $1.5 billion of reserves for a potential legal settlement with the DOJ, the company revealed in its first-quarter earnings report this year. The Justice Department opened an investigation in late 2015 regarding WMC, which was a GE Capital subsidiary, and its alleged violation of the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery, and Enforcement Act.

"This just opens up a new door to what the Department of Justice may be looking at, in totality, and the degree of fine GE may be looking at beyond the $1.5 billion they set aside," Inch said.

Miller said in April that GE Capital "has sufficient liquidity to manage the WMC FIRREA settlement."