Saturday, January 24, 2015

GE Sees Strong Regional Growth, Large Impact From Oil

General Electric (NYSE: GE) released earnings yesterday, and provided a detailed sector by sector view of how 2015 should develop around the globe.  Confirming the outlook provided by other key global companies, they see strong growth in the US continuing through the next year.  Reading through their transcript, the forecast for India and China appears to be a bit more subdued, and the major drags on the world economy will be Russia, Europe, and Japan.

The two major forces dragging on profits continue to be the strength of the US dollar and the extremely low price of oil.  While the latter is helping a few sectors - primarily aviation and transportation - it is having a much more significant negative impact elsewhere.  In fact, GE is already implementing job reductions, restructuring in certain areas, and the execution of simplification projects all in an attempt to reduce cost structures.  The longer oil prices remain this low, the greater will be the impact.

The impact of oil prices can be felt in other areas as well.  Subsea orders dropped 38%, and orders for drilling equipment dropped 72%.  The decline makes sense, since oil is now trading below the break-even point for most types of extraction.  Expect this area to continue to be depressed well into 2015, and expect to see regional economic pressures in areas dependent upon oil exploration and production.

The one energy area experiencing tremendous growth, however, is natural gas.  Orders for turbo machinery related to natural gas were up 60%, primarily in North America, the Middle East, and Russia.  That's not much of a surprise given the amount of natural gas produced in those three regions.  It's a good indication that there are some plays out there in the exploration and production sector, since those companies were beaten to a pulp in the last quarter.  Scouring that list for companies with a strong natural gas presence should provide an excellent entry opportunity. 

As to the US dollar, there is no indication of weakening on the horizon.  With the ECB's QE announcement on Thursday, in fact, there's further strength being forecast, coupled with a significant weakening of the Euro.  This effect, however, is projected to be manageable.  GE, for example, is forecasting only a $0.01 per share impact in 2015 based on currency exchange.

Aviation continues to be a major success story in the US and around the globe. Passenger Kilometers revenue was up 6.1% internationally and 5.3% in the US.  If the price of fuel remains low, this revenue stream will continue to grow.  Airlines should be a strong play at least through the first half of 2015.  GE confirms what Alcoa told us a couple of weeks ago.  Demand is extremely high, and GE experienced aviation orders up 15%.  Equipment orders are up 8%, primarily from commercial engines.  Again, that confirms what Alcoa was seeing for new aircraft orders, and it has me considering a play on B/E Aerospace before they report this week.

Healthcare is another growing segment in the US, up 9%.  There is significant growth in diagnostic equipment orders for CT, Ultrasound, and MR.  Globally, however, the sector is extremely depressed. There were sharp declines in Japan, Russia, and the Middle East.  China is only expected to see modest growth in this sector for 2015.  It looks like the healthcare plays for 2015 are primarily domestic.

Transportation experienced its strongest growth ever in 2014, driven primarily by a surge of locomotive orders in the US.  That has to be great news for the freight industry, so we'll be taking a hard look at Union Pacific's forecast.  (They released earnings on Thursday, so their transcript is available now.)

An interesting item that came out of their lighting department is the report of 72% growth in their LED business.  LED comprised 27% of their revenues in that department, at a time when they saw a sharp decline in demand for traditional lighting products.  This warrants a closer inspection since LEDs are now being used in a wide variety of consumer products.  A surge in demand for LEDs implies very strong demand in consumer discretionaries as well as in technology, at least in the US.

Overall, the outlook from GE is similar to what we're hearing from other global companies.  The US is strong, China moderate, but Europe, Russia, and Japan are economic millstones.  Look to aviation, transportation, and healthcare for some strong growth.  Consumer discretionary may also provide an opportunity based on hints from the lighting market, but that's going to require a closer inspection.

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