GE has been struggling for some time, as the inept leadership of Jeffrey Immelt left the company in very dire straits. Investors are finding out just how dire, as the company has uncovered huge “hidden” liabilities in the billions.
They’ve also been shut out of the commercial paper market as well, which means liquidity at the company is tight:
General Electric Co. may still have a relatively solid investment-grade rating, but investors aren’t taking their chances. They’re snapping up derivatives that protect against losses on the company’s debt.
The annual cost to insure against a default by GE for five years climbed above 200 basis points for the first time in years, credit-default swap prices from CMA show. That’s almost double what it cost just two weeks ago, and it’s the kind of level that hasn’t been seen for the company since the waning days of the global financial crisis.
That’s still well below the peak crisis levels for GE’s finance unit back then (GE Capital CDS surged to more than 1,000 basis points in March 2009). But the pace of the increase has been rapid, particularly when compared with the broader investment-grade market. Yields on some of GE’s bonds have also reached levels that are in line with junk-rated bonds, Bloomberg Barclays index data show.
Chief Executive Officer Larry Culp tried to reassure investors that the company is prioritizing debt reduction in its effort to combat a multiple-front crisis in a televised interview on Monday, when the bond market was closed. GE is facing weak demand for gas turbines, high debt levels and a federal accounting probe. Its shares have fallen more than 25 percent since Culp’s surprise appointment as CEO was announced Oct. 1, extending a sell-off that has wiped out more than $200 billion in market value since the end of 2016.
GE may not be alone in facing these risks, some money managers fear. U.S. investment-grade bonds have been one of the worst-performing U.S. asset classes this year, as rising interest rates have lifted companies’ funding costs and sapped investors’ returns. More pain may be coming for investors, and it could be severe, distressed-debt money manager Marc Lasry warned late last month. Scott Minerd, global chief investment officer of Guggenheim Partners, said on Tuesday that more investment-grade credits will suffer.