GE in Talks With Potential Acquirers to Sell Appliances Business

By David Welch and Richard Clough Jul 16, 2014, 3:12 PM 

General Electric Co. (GE) is in talks with potential acquirers about selling its century-old household appliances business, said people familiar with the matter, a unit that’s a prominent part of the company’s history and responsible for many of life’s modern conveniences.

GE has moved to revive efforts to divest the division behind the invention of the electric toaster in 1905 after an unsuccessful attempt six years ago, the people said.

The company was waiting to firm up its acquisition of Alstom SA (ALO)’s energy assets before pursuing options including an outright sale of the appliances business, said one of the people, who asked not to be identified because the process is private. With the Alstom deal now signed, GE is talking to bidders for the white goods unit, the people said.

GE Appliances and Lighting includes refrigerators and stoves that trace their roots to the early twentieth century, electric clothes washers that GE introduced in 1930 and light bulbs, first invented by co-founder Thomas Edison. The unit generated more than $8 billion in sales last year, or 5.6 percent of the company’s total revenue. It may fetch $1.5 billion to $2.5 billion in a sale, the people said.

The shares jumped as much as 2 percent to $27.15 and were trading at $27.00 at 3:08 p.m. in New York, outpacing a gain of less than 1 percent in the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

Business Strategy

For GE, selling the division would be part of a greater strategy to exit businesses where the company is not a leader or poised for growth. Fairfield, Connecticut-based GE ranked third in U.S. market share in appliances such as dishwashers, refrigerators and cooktops as of 2011, with Whirlpool Corp. in the top spot followed by Sweden’s Electrolux AB, according to research service Statista.

Chief Financial Officer Jeff Bornstein said after GE’s first-quarter earnings report that the company projects as much as $4 billion in divestitures this year.

A spokesman for GE declined to comment.

In May 2008, GE said it planned to sell or spin off its Louisville, Kentucky-based appliances business, hiring Goldman Sachs (GS) Group Inc. to explore options. Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Immelt said at the time that the division was too tied to the tumultuous U.S. market and needed to be more globally focused. GE had sold its plastics business the previous year for about $11.6 billion to Saudi Basic Industries Corp. (SABIC)

Immelt, who failed to find a buyer for the unit early in the financial crisis, opted to invest $1 billion in new factories and products to make the business more competitive against global companies such as Korea’s Samsung Electronics Co. (005930) The Appliances & Lighting unit has made a big push to develop light-emitting-diode bulbs, moving away from the incandescent lights created by Edison.

Business Reorganization

After the financial crisis, during which GE’s financial arm dragged down the company, Immelt started a program to reshape the entire business around its industrial units and cut costs. He sold real estate holdings and stakes in foreign banks, and also exited NBCUniversal.

Last month, GE reached an agreement to acquire the energy assets of Alstom for $17 billion, the largest deal since Immelt was appointed CEO in 2001. The acquisition followed several recent purchases in the oil and gas market, including paying $3.3 billion in April 2013 for Lufkin Industries Inc.

The moves generated only a lukewarm response from shareholders. While GE’s stock is up from a low of less than $7 a share in 2009, shares are still down by about a third from when Immelt took the helm.

Bloomberg News

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