GE can cut debt, improve valuation by 2020, UBS says: 'It won't be quick, and it is likely to be volatile'

  • General Electric will be able to reduce its debt "to far more acceptable levels by 2020," UBS said Monday.
  • "We maintain our conviction that the stock presents a long-term capital appreciation opportunity," UBS analyst Steven Winoker said in a note.
  • But GE still has a number of risks to improving its leverage.

UBS said General Electric will be able to reduce its debt "to far more acceptable levels by 2020," despite fears the industrial conglomerate's bonds could soon become junk-rated.

That debt is "far and away" the most pressing concern for GE investors, said UBS analyst Steven Winoker in a note on Monday. That concern was abundantly clear in feedback from clients, he said.

"While GE has been under considerable pressure lately, we maintain our conviction that the stock presents a long-term capital appreciation opportunity," Winoker said. "It won't be quick, and it is likely to be volatile, but we see a path to improvement for both leverage and valuation."

UBS laid out one of the paths new GE chairman and CEO Larry Culp could take. In this scenario, UBS said GE would get about $33 billion from announced and coming asset sales. Winoker's outlook has GE paying down $5.4 billion in debt and obligations and transferring about $21 billion in cash to heavily levered GE Capital.

"The net is a ~$43 billion improvement in the Industrial net debt position," Winoker said.

But GE still has a number of risks to improving its leverage.

"Litigation and investigation settlements could also come in higher than we currently forecast," Winoker said.

Both the SEC and DOJ expanded their investigations into GE's accounting practices after GE took a $22 billion charge in the third quarter related to acquisitions made in its power business. GE reserved $1.5 billionin April for a potential legal settlement of the DOJ investigation.

GE Capital could also "see a further deterioration" in cash generation, Winoker said.

UBS has a buy rating and a $13 price target on GE shares. Shares of GE fell 2.2 percent in trading Monday, closing at $7.84 a share.

– CNBC's Michael Bloom contributed to this report.