GE raises cash outlook on hopes of aviation rebound

Sales in the company's jet engine division rose 10% to $4.84bn in the second quarter of 2021

FILE PHOTO: A man takes a picture of a General Electric (GE) engine during the China International Import Expo (CIIE), at the National Exhibition and Convention Center in Shanghai, China November 6, 2018. REUTERS/Aly Song/File Photo

General Electric raised its cash outlook as growth in its jet engine division fuelled optimism that recovering air travel will bolster chief executive Larry Culp's turnaround efforts.

Free cash flow for industrial operations will be $3.5 billion to $5bn this year, GE said on Tuesday as it reported second-quarter earnings. The Boston-based company previously forecast $2.5bn to $4bn.

The outlook signalled the beginning of a recovery from the severe decline in GE’s jet engine unit caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Sales in the aviation operation – traditionally the company’s crown jewel – climbed 10 per cent to $4.84bn, while orders jumped 47 per cent in light of what Mr Culp called early signs of a rebound. In addition, orders, revenue and profit margins improved at each of GE’s other industrial businesses.

“All in all, we would wish for more tailwind, or maybe I should say less headwind in aviation, but that seems to be gradually clearing,” Mr Culp said. “In terms of the other businesses, we have few complaints this [on Tuesday] morning.”

GE's chares climbed 1.2 per cent to $13.08 at 10.21am in New York on Tuesday. The stock had advanced 20 per cent this year through to Monday while the S&P 500 climbed 18 per cent.

Results were aided by the comparison with the year-earlier quarter, when GE experienced the worst effects of the pandemic. The impact has extended the timeline for Mr Culp’s multiyear push to turn around the maker of jet engines, medical scanners and power generation equipment.

During nearly three years as chief executive, Mr Culp has cut debt, sold assets and pushed to improve the company’s daily operations to reverse the epic collapse that had led to his appointment. The company surprised Wall Street with better-than-expected cash flow in the second half of 2020.

Central to that goal will be the commercial aerospace business – principally, making and servicing jet engines – which the company said would start to experience a gradual recovery during this year’s second half as travellers return to the skies.

While that plays out, GE’s other industrial units showed signs of improvement. The industrial businesses defied analyst expectations by generating $388 million in free cash flow in the second quarter.

The metric is closely watched by investors as a signal of underlying profit. The latest results exclude a negative impact stemming from GE’s decision to reduce its sales of receivables to a partner to raise short-term funds, a practice known as factoring.

Second-quarter adjusted earnings were 5 cents a share, compared with a 15-cent loss a year earlier. Analysts expected 4 cents for the latest period. Sales rose 8.8 per cent to $18.3bn, while Wall Street anticipated $18.1bn.

Updated: July 27th 2021, 4:14 PM