GE brings its books to light

Mar 19, 2009

General Electric investors may have a sense of deja vu heading into Thursday's special presentation on GE Capital . Last December, as the credit freeze impaired everyone from Wall Street firms to Main Street banks, GE managers held a similar meeting to address the impact on GE's finance unit.
Few had cared about how GE Capital made money when it drove company profits, but during a lending crisis what was inside the black box suddenly mattered very much.

Investors learned that their bluechip industrial company was a big player in consumer credit cards and commercial real estate, had exposure to UK subprime mortgages, and owned more than $50 billion in off-balance sheet, asset-backed securities.

Three months later the stock is down 40%. The company lost its AAA credit rating, once referred to as "the gold standard" and "sacred" by managers; and it slashed its dividend.

The questions about GE Capital's books remain, and have even grown to include doubts about the company's book of business in Eastern Europe and Russia, as well its loan loss reserves.

Today GE's chief financial officer Keith Sherin, GE Capital chief executive Mike Neal and GE Capital managers will, in the words of Sherin, “do a deep dive around the hot spots" including real estate, U.S. consumer credit, UK home lending, and central and eastern Europe exposure. They will show that GE Capital will make money in the first quarter and put to rest loss reserve fears by explaining their balance sheet stress tests.

The meeting space at 30 Rockefeller Plaza will be full to capacity and investors left in the cold are tuning into the webcast. For those who can't listen in, we're blogging it from across the street with comments coming at us from in the room. Refresh here throughout the morning for more news. And feel free to comment and email me with thoughts at kbenner@fortunemail.com if you're listening along, too or have thoughts on GE Capital.

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