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Despite Government Threat, General Electric Is Still Treading Water



Despite Government Threat, General Electric Is Still Treading WaterGeneral Electric (NYSE:GE) stock has had quite the saga — the company has been in turnaround mode for over three years now.
Source: Sundry Photography /

GE has installed two different CEOs, sold off countless divisions, and made all sorts of strategic changes. It has also been through a variety of crises, both external and self-inflicted. Of course, this has made GE stock volatile, with plenty of ups and downs.
So, the latest blow probably didn’t come as much of a surprise to shareholders.InvestorPlace – Stock Market News, Stock Advice & Trading Tips
Last month, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) took an additional step toward disciplinary action against General Electric. While the company has faced plenty of heat from short sellers and credit ratings agencies, government regulators are a newer hazard.

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Still, GE stock has been able to come out relatively unscathed so far. Shares only fell for a few days, then quickly rebounded. And even in the wake of this added uncertainty, Goldman Sachs (NYSE:GS) came to GE’s side, giving the stock a favorable rating.
I’m inclined to agree. Despite GE’s many unresolved concerns, there is still a viable comeback story here.
SEC Slams GE Stock
Two weeks ago, the SEC made its regulatory plans regarding GE known. As a result, General Electric issued the following disclosure:
“On September 30, 2020, the SEC staff issued a “Wells notice” advising GE that it is considering recommending to the SEC that it bring a civil injunctive action against GE for possible violations of the securities laws. GE has been informed that the issues the SEC staff may recommend that the SEC pursue relate to the historical premium deficiency testing for GE Capital’s run-off insurance operations, as well as GE’s disclosures relating to such run-off insurance operations.”
I’ve seen people overreacting to this, so let’s put it in context. A Wells notice doesn’t necessarily mean that the SEC has decided to bring enforcement actions against the company — instead it notifies them of the possibility. As GE notes in its press release, this is not a formal notice of wrongdoing or allegations of such. Further, GE will have a chance to present its case to the SEC before it brings official action against the company.

That noted, this is still unequivocally bad news for GE stock. The SEC runs tons of background investigations on companies. It rarely gets to this step — particularly on a company as large and important as GE. This is even the case in the wake of controversies. For example, the SEC took a fairly light touch with Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA) — Elon Musk got to keep his position as CEO, and a $40 million fine is little more than a slap on the wrist in this context.
Meanwhile, GE appears like it may get raked over the coals for events that happened back in 2018 and earlier.
Goldman Sachs Stands Up
It’s not all bad news for General Electric though, despite the government investigation. Goldman Sachs has re-entered the playing field on GE.
The famed investment bank had previously stopped coverage of General Electric in 2019, as it was advising that company on potential mergers and acquisitions (M&A) activity. In 2019, when it dropped coverage, it merely held a “neutral” rating on GE stock.
Now, however, GE’s analyst Joe Ritchie has issued a “buy” rating on GE stock. What’s more, he set an ambitious $10 price target, which represents a little over 25% upside from current share price. Ritchie wrote that the new GE is a “leaner, structurally more productive company with better capital discipline.” As the pandemic ends, Ritchie expects GE to improve its free cash flow generation dramatically.
Bottom Line
I’ve long made the bull argument for GE stock. There are some great assets at the company — and that hasn’t changed. With Larry Culp running General Electric, the firm now has a capable leader who can unlock the value of GE’s crown jewels.
However, this process has been anything but easy. Even now, as 2020 winds down, GE is still paying the price for errors made by previous leadership. The SEC Wells notice — and any subsequent fines or penalties — is not the fault of current management.
Still, these problems are painful. It seems every time GE stock is about to turn the corner, some new bad luck hits.
But the fundamentals still point to GE’s eventual success. Goldman Sachs agrees, despite critics, skeptics and government scrutiny. As always, it’s not a fun or pleasant experience owning GE stock. However, its resilience in the wake of this latest setback should reassure shareholders.
On the date of publication, Ian Bezek did not have (either directly or indirectly) any positions in the securities mentioned in this article.
Ian Bezek has written more than 1,000 articles for and Seeking Alpha. He also worked as a Junior Analyst for Kerrisdale Capital, a $300 million New York City-based hedge fund. You can reach him on Twitter at @irbezek.
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17 Ways You Can Develop New Habits and Improve Your Life



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Walmart sues government to pre-empt allegations it helped fuel opioid crisis



Walmart Inc. sued the federal government in an effort to preempt regulators’ claims that the retailer added fuel to the U.S.’s opioid crisis by filling suspicious painkiller prescriptions in its pharmacies.

The world’s largest retailer argues in the suit that the U.S. Justice Department and Drug Enforcement Administration is scapegoating the chain to divert attention from the agencies’ failures to effectively address the public-health crisis over opioids.

Watchdog groups have “meticulously cataloged” the ways regulators have “failed to safeguard the public from improper diversion of prescription opioids,” Walmart’s lawyers said in the 54-page complaint. Walmart indicated it sued the government in anticipation of the DOJ filing its own lawsuit alleging the retailer mishandled the highly addictive pills. The company wants a judge to remove “unacceptable uncertainty” about its practices.

A spokesperson for the Justice Department didn’t immediately respond to calls for comment after regular business hours. James Pokryfke, a DEA spokesman, declined to comment. The complaint comes a day after federal prosecutors announced an $8.3 billion deal with drugmaker Purdue Pharma LP under which the company will plead guilty to criminal charges over its marketing of its opioid-based OxyContin painkiller.

Walmart has been promoting its health-services offering in the U.S. — where care is expensive and the insurance system is complex. The company has announced plans to expand its low-cost clinics in Georgia and the Chicago area.

Walmart sued the government in Sherman, Texas — the same district in which federal prosecutors once weighed hitting the chain with criminal charges over its opioid-dispensing practices, according to ProPublica. Joe Brown, the former U.S. Attorney for east Texas, threatened to indict the retailer for intentionally supplying doctor-run pill mills that routinely wrote hundreds of prescriptions for opioid painkillers, according to the report. DOJ officials in Washington nixed the indictments, ProPublica said.

Maureen Smith, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s office in Sherman didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment. Brown, who stepped down in May, didn’t return a call and email seeking comment. The Wall Street Journal reported earlier on the suit.

Walmart has been sued by more than 2,000 states, cities and counties seeking to recoup billions in tax dollars spent battling the fallout from the opioid crisis. The retailer, along with pharmacy chains, was set to face a federal trial in Cleveland over its opioid handling, but the case was delayed by the Covid-19 outbreak.

Local government officials claim Walmart and companies such as CVS Health Corp., Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc.and Rite Aid Corp intentionally turned a blind eye to suspiciously large opioid prescriptions to ramp up billions in profits.

In its suit, Walmart said it has a robust system for monitoring opioid prescriptions and federal regulators are making unreasonable demands on the chain.

“DOJ and DEA are placing pharmacists and pharmacies in an untenable position by threatening to hold them liable for violating DOJ’s unwritten expectations for handling opioid prescriptions—expectations that are directly at odds with state pharmacy and medical practice laws,” the company said.

The case is Walmart Inc. v. U.S. Department of Justice, 20-cv-00817, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Texas (Sherman).(Updates with details on opioid suits against Walmart starting in eighth paragraph)

–With assistance from Chris Strohm and Laurel Calkins.

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Trump claims at debate that China is paying for farm subsidies. In fact, U.S. taxpayers are footing the bill



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At Thursday’s U.S. presidential debate, President Donald Trump falsely claimed in an exchange with rival Joe Biden that China is paying American farm subsidies.

“I just gave $28 billion to our farmers,” Trump said.

“[That’s] taxpayers’ money,” Biden, the Democratic nominee, interjected. “[The money] didn’t come from China.”

Trump objected: “No, no. You know who the taxpayer is? It’s called China. China pays $28 billion, and you know what they did to pay it, Joe? They devalued their currency and they also paid up, and you know got the money? Our farmers, our great farmers, because they were targeted.”

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Trump’s claim that China paid for American farm subsidies is false, given that the U.S. has drawn from its own government coffers to pay for subsidies to bolster farmers hurt by the U.S.-China trade war. It is also unclear how his claims of China ‘paying up’ or ‘devaluing its currency’ relate to U.S. government subsidies to American farmers.

Trump’s January phase I trade deal with China—a first step in resolving the years-long trade war—included a vow from China to vastly increase its purchases of American farm goods. Such action would have benefited U.S. farmers, but as of now, China is far behind on meeting its targets.

Farm relief

The trade war began in July 2018, when the Trump administration levied $34 billion in tariffs on Chinese goods, meaning it cost more for American companies to import products from China. In response, China imposed a 25% tariff on U.S. soybeans and other agricultural products, meaning American goods became more expensive for Chinese importers. Subsequent rounds of tit-for-tat measures followed, which raised China’s tariffs on soybeans to as high as 33%; Chinese tariffs on U.S. pork products reached 72%.

Trump often claims that China paid the tariffs his administration imposed on Chinese goods. It’s true that the U.S. Treasury has collected billions of dollars in tariffs in recent years, but that money is paid by U.S. importers of Chinese goods, not by Chinese entities or China itself.

In reality, tariffs are intended to be a deterrent. Those imposed by the Trump White House made it more expensive for American companies to buy Chinese items; the idea being that American companies would import fewer Chinese goods if the products became more expensive, which would ultimately hurt China. American companies did seek out alternatives to Chinese products after the tariffs went into effect, but they also responded by raising their prices to cover the added cost and by cutting other expenses, like jobs. In June 2019 alone, a group of trade associations found that Chinese tariffs cost U.S. businesses $3.4 billion. By the time of the trade deal in January 2020, Trump administration tariffs had cost U.S. companies tens of billions of dollars.

The $28 billion figure that Trump mentioned on Thursday appears to refer to the $28 billion in subsidies the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) allotted to American farmers between 2018 and 2019. The USDA rolled out the subsidy mechanism, called a Market Facilitation Program, in 2018 to provide relief to farmers whose crops had been targeted by China’s retaliatory trade war tariffs.

Corn And Soy Fields Ahead Of USDA WASDE Report
A farmer pulls a planter through a soybean field in this aerial photograph taken over a farm near Buda, Illinois, U.S., on Tuesday, July 2, 2019. The U.S. trade war with China hit American soybean farmers especially hard.
Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Just as U.S. tariffs on Chinese goods made the items more expensive in the U.S., China’s retaliatory tariffs on U.S. goods made American products more expensive in China. And in this instance too, the added cost was a deterrent. Instead of importing, say, soybeans from the U.S., Chinese companies imported them from other countries, such as Brazil. That was bad news for U.S. soybean farmers, who exported roughly 25% of their harvests to China in 2017, before the trade war began.

The tariffs led to a precipitous drop in U.S. soybean exports to China. From 2017 to 2018, they fell 70%.

It is not clear how Trump came to the conclusion that China footed the $28 billion bill for farmer subsidies. The payments were the handiwork of the USDA’s Commodity Credit Corporation, an agency that is authorized to borrow from the U.S. Treasury to stabilize America’s farm economy.

“President Trump has great affection for America’s farmers and ranchers. He knows that they’re fighting the fight and that they’re on the front lines,” Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue told reporters in 2018.

Farmers are viewed as a core constituency in Trump’s electoral base, and the president continues to hold commanding leads over Biden in 2020 polls of American farmers.

Observers have criticized Trump for using the little-known USDA mechanism to shield his administration from negative political consequences of the trade war, without having to put the measure before federal lawmakers.

“What’s unique about this is, [the subsidies] didn’t go through Congress,” Joe Glauber, the USDA’s former chief economist, told NPR in December 2019. “The sector that is hurt the most [agriculture], and which would normally complain, all of a sudden it’s assuaged by these payments.”

The Trump Administration’s approach has caught the attention of the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the U.S.’s watchdog agency. It’s investigating whether the payments were disproportionately distributed to large corporations or to places that supported Trump in the 2016 election.

Trade deal

The trade deal that the Trump administration signed with Beijing in January this year holds China to new purchasing targets in exchange for the lowering of tariffs. Officially, Chinese tariffs on U.S. goods remained in place, but in practice China granted tariff-free waivers on goods like pork and soybeans to Chinese importers.

As part of the deal, China agreed to purchase $36.6 billion worth of agricultural goods, a $12.5 billion increase from pre-trade war levels in 2017. On paper, that action by China provides real relief to American farmers. But through August, China had only purchased $11 billion worth of agricultural products, less than half of what it needed to buy to be on track to meet the conditions of the trade deal.

Meanwhile, from 2018 to 2020 U.S. farmers relied more heavily on U.S. government support. The share of income they receive from the U.S. government, as opposed to what they receive from selling their crops, has steadily increased in the last three years. So far in 2020, 40% of farmers’ net cash income has come from government subsidies, the highest percentage in two decades.

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