Plans to shrink GE worries investors; shares hit five-year low

General Electric

General Electric Co‘s new Chief Executive John Flannery on Monday outlined steps that will turn the biggest U.S. industrial conglomerate into a smaller, more focussed company, surprising some investors who sold the company’s shares to a five-year low.

Flannery’s plan to shrink GE’s multi-industry array of businesses was a reversal of the deal-driven empire building of his predecessors, Jeff Immelt and Jack Welch, and potentially a milestone in the decline of the conglomerate as a business strategy.

Other companies that once emulated the GE model of spreading bets among diverse industries are now unwinding their portfolios as well, something Immelt also did throughout his 16 years as CEO, even as he made acquisitions.

Flannery said he will pare GE down to three core businesses: power, aviation and healthcare. He will keep Immelt’s strategy of building software to complement GE’s machinery, albeit with a narrower focus and reduced budget.

For investors, Flannery’s decision to cut both the dividend and the 2018 earnings forecast by half added up to a whole that was less than they judged GE be worth last week.

GE shares fell to their lowest level in more than five years as investors worried the years-long overhaul would not pare down enough expenses or generate as much cash as they hoped. They closed off the day’s lows, down 7.2 percent to $19.02.

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