General Electric Co.'s (GE) new earnings were treated with great enthusiasm, which pushed its stock higher by almost 5% in one day. Management and the board, however, must be haunted by the fact that, since famous CEO Jack Welch left, GE's shares are down more than 40%, and the S&P is more than 40% higher. No matter what current CEO Jeff Immelt does, the market has continued to be against him.
GE attempts to put a good face on Immelt's tenure. Barron's has named him one of its "World's Best CEOs" three times. And Immelt chairs President Obama's Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, a job that almost has to be a distraction to the head of a global company that is barely growing, in the years it is not shrinking.
GE reported that in the second quarter, earnings were down 11% to $3.3 billion. Revenue was off 4% to $35.1 billion. Revenue at its big power and water unit dropped 17% to $5.7 billion. Revenue at its health care division was flat at $4.5 billion. And aviation division revenue, the one bright spot, was up 9% to $5.3 billion. The numbers were lackluster, as they have been for several years, and GE can no longer blame the recession.
In a historical context, the numbers are particularly poor. Five years ago, GE's revenue was $185.2 billion. In the most recent trailing 12 months that number has dropped to $147.3 billion. Earnings have fallen from $17.4 billion to $14.1 billion on the same basis. There is no amount of public relations effort of analysis that can explain the away.
Immelt's comments on the results from Q2 were:
We executed in a business environment that was slightly improved versus the first quarter. Emerging markets remain resilient, and in the U.S. we saw strong growth in orders this quarter. Europe is stabilizing but still challenged. We expect margin expansion to continue and segment profits to grow in the second half of the year.
It might have been better if he admitted that he and his management have made no progress, and that the situation probably will not improve. Immelt is 57, after all, which means he could hold his job for almost another 10 years.