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Investors hope GE spinoff will defy poor track record of breakups

Reuters - Tue Apr 2, 3:58PM CDT

As General Electric GE-Ncompletes its $191.9 billion breakup, bullish investors are betting it will defy the lacklustre share price performance that has followed many corporate spinoffs over the last few decades.

Shares of GE were up nearly 37 per cent this year as of Monday and stood near a seven-year high.

On Tuesday, the company’s energy spinoff – whose businesses include wind turbine production and powering data centres – began trading under the name of GE Vernova. GE Aerospace, which makes engines for commercial and military aircraft, kept the GE ticker symbol. Investors who held GE as of March 19 received one share of GE Vernova for every four shares of GE they owned.

Shares in Vernova were up around 3.8 per cent on Tuesday, while GE’s shares were up 1.2 per cent.

While spinoffs are typically designed to unlock value, many have been followed by unremarkable share price performance. A Bain & Co study of more than 350 spinoffs between 2000 and 2020 showed that spinoffs generated an average total investor return – defined as equity appreciation plus dividend yields – of 5.1 per cent a year over the three years after the split. That compares to an average annual 8.7 per cent total return for the S&P 500 during the same time frame.

“You don’t get multiple expansion for free in this type of transaction, you have to earn it,” said Jeff Haxer, a partner at Bain who led the study.

Spinoffs underperformed in the three-year time frame for a broad range of reasons, including a loss of synergies that had helped the parent company control costs or maintain margins, Haxer said. The firm looked at spinoffs that created companies with a market value of more than $1 billion, including Baxter’s spinoff of its Baxalta biopharma business and Kraft’s spinoff of its snack business into Mondelez International.

Whether GE’s latest spinoff will meet a similar fate remains to be seen. GE in 2021 said it would split into three companies focused on aerospace, health care and energy, part of CEO Larry Culp’s plan to unlock value and make capital allocation more transparent to investors.

Its health care business, GE HealthCare Technologies, was spun off in January 2023 and has so far bucked the broader trend. The company’s shares are up nearly 50 per cent since it broke off, while the parent company’s shares have risen almost 170 per cent.

Some investors are betting the company’s latest spinoff will see similar success.

Jason Adams, portfolio manager of the T Rowe Price Global Industrials Fund, said GE’s aviation business puts it in the top tier of global industrial companies.

GE Aerospace has been a cash cow for the Boston-based company, with some analysts estimating its market value at more than $100 billion after the spinoff.

At the same time, the new GE Vernova could see growth due to the increasing consumption needs of data centres that will power generative artificial intelligence, Adams said.

“Aerospace was a better known entity and its growth outlook better understood, but I think Vernova has been more recently discovered by the investment community and that’s what has been behind the pop in (GE’s) the stock this year,” said Adams, who plans to be a shareholder in both companies.

Vernova last month said it expects to clear a massive backlog in offshore wind equipment over the next two years, signalling improved market conditions for the beleaguered sector, which has faced hefty writedowns as soaring inflation, interest rate hikes and supply chain issues increased project costs.

Larry Tentarelli, chief technical strategist at Blue Chip Daily Trend Report, said the remainder of GE is now a better pure play on aviation. He expects its multiples to improve from a current 22 times trailing earnings as investors get a clearer look at its earnings growth and balance sheet, separate from GE’s power business.

“The aviation business is humming along on all cylinders,” said Tentarelli, who owns GE and plans on holding onto his Vernova shares.

Whether the deal becomes a net positive for investors will likely hinge on the growth of the renewable business for GE Vernova, said Chris Snyder, an analyst at UBS. He has a buy rating on both companies, with a target price of $154 for GE and $37 for GE Vernova.

Of the analysts covering GE, 13 now have a buy or strong buy and 5 have a hold, according to LSEG.

“GE is taking share and has pricing power,” Snyder said, while the rising demand for energy due to AI data centres is making him “increasingly positive on the prospects for GE Vernova.”

(Reporting by David Randall; Additional reporting by Lewis Krauskopf; Editing by Ira Iosebashvili and Nick Zieminski)

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