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The Case for Selling General Electric’s Stock

The General Electric logo at the company's plant in Belfort, France.Photograph by SEBASTIEN BOZON—AFP/Getty Images

On Thursday, shares of General Electric (GE) took a dip after J.P. Morgan resumed coverage on the stock with an underweight rating—making it GE’s only call to sell.

“While recognizing a bold portfolio transformation, and solid technology potential, we think these positives are more than reflected in GE stock at current levels,” a team of analysts led by Stephen Tusa wrote in a 230-page Thursday note. “However, by the numbers, what we have seen is core operating performance that is below plan, and, at current, consensus expectations curve that remains too high, (free cash flow) that is weakest in the sector, and, with that backdrop, expensive valuation, with limited incremental catalysts to change the narrative.”

J.P. Morgan noted that GE’s target of $2 earnings per share in 2015 will be hard to reach. That’s because the company’s oil and gas, transportation, and connected energy sectors are “all drags.” Meanwhile, the company’s free cash flow is also low, with conversion on total EPS of 75%—a problem the rest of the sector doesn’t seem to have. J.P. Morgan noted that GE’s free cash is not expected to grow because of the company’s stretched supply chain, future pension contributions, and other factors.

The bank estimates that GE will have an estimated free cash flow of $1.2 billion per year available in 2017 and 2018, after dividends.

However, GE’s stock has rallied nearly 10% in the past 12 months, as the company overhauled its operations. The company sold its finance division, GE Capital, bought Alstom’s energy business for $10 billion, and sold its appliance division for $5.4 billion to Haier. Investors cheered as GE simplified its portfolio, focusing more on its healthcare, energy, and digital platforms.