A IUE-CWA union worker takes part in protest demanding the company to use its workforce to produce ventilators and provide more safety measures amid the coronavirus disease outbreak, in Lynn, Massachusetts, the US, April 8 2020. Picture: REUTERS/BRIAN SNYDER
A IUE-CWA union worker takes part in protest demanding the company to use its workforce to produce ventilators and provide more safety measures amid the coronavirus disease outbreak, in Lynn, Massachusetts, the US, April 8 2020. Picture: REUTERS/BRIAN SNYDER

Boston — General Electric  said on Wednesday the coronavirus pandemic dealt a $1bn blow to cash flow at its industrial business in the first quarter, while total revenue fell almost 8% and the company warned the damage would worsen in the next three months.

GE's share were down 3.5% to $6.56 before midday.

Among many changes in response to the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic, the Boston-based conglomerate said it had cut 700 workers at its power division, was bracing for repossession of some aircraft by its GECAS aircraft leasing unit and was cutting capital spending by 25% in 2020.

Some analysts saw little that was unexpected in the results. While aviation profit margins fell more than was predicted, GE's forecast that the unit will see a slow recovery “should not surprise investors”, Barclays analyst Julian Mitchell wrote.

Others said the results were disappointing. “Considering that GE had previously established a pattern of 'beat and raise', we expected a result above 10c and a better free cash flow print,” said John Inch, analyst at Gordon Haskett.

GE did not offer updated targets for full-year performance. It had earlier in April pulled its 2020 forecast, citing uncertainties created by the coronavirus outbreak but backed its first-quarter industrial free cash flow expectation of down nearly $2bn.

Free cash flow from industrial operations was negative $2.2bn in the first quarter.

GE reported adjusted earnings of 5c per share, below the average estimate of 8c, according to Refinitiv.

Aviation and the power divisions

Fallout from the pandemic caused revenue to fall 13% in both the aviation and the power divisions. Profit in aviation fell 39% to $1bn, while the power unit lost $129m, GE said.

GE said about 20% of planned maintenance work on power plants had been deferred until later in 2020, a factor that weighed on revenue and profit. Many US utilities are deferring non-essential work because of health and safety restrictions.

Coronavirus-related orders help produce a 6% increase in orders at GE's health-care unit, which produced an $896m profit in the quarter. The division completed the sale of its biopharma business in the first quarter. The gains in health care from demand for coronavirus-related products was partly offset by a decline in demand for other products, CEO  Larry Culp said on a conference call.

GE said it planned to cut costs by $2bn and take other, unspecified steps to save $3bn in cash in response to the pandemic. The cash actions might include such steps as reducing capital spending or adjusting working capital.

The company had already announced plans to furlough half of its US aviation component manufacturing and jet-engine assembly workers, without specifying how many. That move followed GE's decision to lay off 10% of its 52,000-member aviation workforce in late March.

GE has also said the slowdown in aircraft repairs was affecting half of its maintenance workforce but has not provided numbers.

Reuters

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