Devilish loss in GE's green business

Despite an increase in both sales and wind turbine order intake by more than one third, GE's renewable energy division suffered a big loss last year. Overall, though, the US group fared better than feared.
Photo: GE
Photo: GE

On paper, General Electric Renewable Energy (GERE) went forward on practically all parameters in 2019. Divisional revenue, mainly entailing wind power but also including hydroelectric and network business, grew by 7 percent to USD 15.3 billion, while order intake was even more noteworthy. With 4,325 wind turbines with a combined capacity of 12,758 MW, intake surged by an entire 35 percent, measured in units, and by 48 percent, accounted for in megawatts.

However, one not-so-negligible post shows a marked retreat. The year's end result reveals a deficit at a whopping USD 666 million against last year's profit of USD 292 million.

This setback doesn't quite come as a sudden strike of lightning from a clear sky. Already when GE's executive team released their outlook for 2019 one year back, the company forecast a slump due to the counter-cyclical effect on the US market, where the turbine maker was meant to have executed its swathe of orders won in years prior. However, GE estimated a near-zero margin, but the final figure landed at -4.3 percent.

Another indicator that GERE isn't raking in money is its free cash flow post. Last year, the group booked inflows of USD 980 million, mainly sourced from operations and maintenance activities, factories and equipment.

Finally, revenue didn't actually turn out to be particularly impressive when compared with the company's own guidance for its green division. GE disclosed that its organic growth – accounted in non-GAAP terms – would be of a "strong double-digit". Although not least attributable to a relatively weak fourth quarter, the top line climbed 11 percent, organically, to USD 15.9 billion, while the deficit, sieved through generally accepted accounting principles, came to as much as USD 731 million.

Nor has the renewable power unit attracted any beaming praise from Chief Executive Lawrence Culp Jr. He points out, rather, that the company's aggregated activities' performance was above expectations throughout the year, which the CEO himself describes as a "restart year". Combined, GE presents growth on its industrial margin from -23.1 percent to 2.1 percent, thereby being the projections of most analysts.

"The fourth quarter marked a strong close to the year for GE. We met or exceeded our full-year financial targets and are on a positive trajectory for 2020," Culp writes in a press release on the financial report, adding:

"Our priorities looking forward are clear. We are solidifying our financial position, continuing to strengthen our businesses as improvement efforts build momentum, and driving long-term profitable growth. We remain committed to creating value as we continue our multi-year transformation."

English Edit: Daniel Frank Christensen

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