GE cuts forecast… so?

ge.jpgHow big is the $700 billion financial bailout package for the markets? Big enough that a change in perception as to whether it will pass can overshadow a cut in outlook from industrial and financial powerhouse General Electric.
Initially down after GE slashed its quarterly and full-year forecast, Dow Jones futures turned higher in later pre-market trade on optimism that the bailout will go ahead with only minimal friction in Congress. GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt said persistent woes in its finance arms, which account for half of its business, were to blame for the dimmed outlook. 
GE stunned Wall Street in April with an unexpected drop in first-quarter profit. It blamed the global credit crunch and the collapse of Bear Stearns for pushing its finance arms lower. These are the businesses at the root of the outlook problems now. At least the market is getting some warning this time — in the spring, GE sprung the bad news on investors in its results statement.
GE shares were down early, sagging to $23.50, off more than $1 from Wednesday’s close. If they hit $20.25 they will have lost half of their value since Immelt became CEO. 
Given the size and breadth of its financial biz, it would be no surprise to see GE in line for some bailout money. But the company seems to be saying it is fully capable of managing its own problems for now. If the market starts to sense, though, that the profitable parts of GE, the industrial stuff, will be the next shoe to drop in the economic slowdown…look out.

Deals of the day:

* Washington Mutual , the large U.S. savings and loan company beleaguered by mortgage losses, has approached private-equity firms about a potential takeover after a line-up of listed firms showed reluctance, the Wall Street Journal said citing people familiar with the situation

* Hynix Semiconductor said it would sell part of its stake in a Chinese joint venture to partner Numonyx for $100 million, as Numonyx seeks to raise its control over the Hynix-led chip plant.

* South Korea’s antitrust watchdog said it had granted conditional approval for eBay Inc‘s plan to buy a controlling stake in South Korean online retailer Gmarket.

* French insurer AXA and Munich Re‘s insurance unit ERGO are among the preliminary bidders for a small South Korean life insurer put up for sale, a source at the domestic insurer said.

Japan lessor mulls M&A nuptials

tokyo-skyline-2.jpgWith Japan’s financial sector facing tighter regulations in consumer lending and the grinding global credit crunch and slow economic growth stifling the leasing industry, what better time for two big companies in these industries to get hitched? Orix, Japan’s largest leasing company, and credit card firm Credit Saison are said to be considering a merger that would create a finance group with $106 billion in assets. Credit Saison’s stock surged 11.2 percent on the news, while Orix’s rose 2.6 percent. Japanese consumer finance is a legal and regulatory battlefield that General Electric and Citigroup both recently fled. “We may not just be talking about these two companies. We could see a flurry of consolidation after this,” said Mitsushige Akino, chief fund manager at Ichiyoshi Investment Management.

The air over Beijing may not be clean enough for long-distance runs in the park but foreign investors are enjoying some clear air with details on the country’s landmark anti-monopoly law, specifying turnover thresholds that will trigger a government review of proposed mergers. All business combinations must be cleared by the Ministry of Commerce if the joint global revenue of the companies involved exceeds 10 billion yuan ($1.46 billion) or 2 billion yuan in China, the People’s Daily reported on Tuesday. Even then, a review would not be needed unless two or more of the firms each had more than 400 million yuan of revenue in China during the previous accounting year, the paper said.

Other deals of the day:

* Swiss Re, the world’s largest reinsurer, has agreed to buy Barclays‘ life assurance portfolio for 753 million pounds ($1.48 billion) in cash, even as it wrote down more credit assets.

Bill Gates the activist?

gates1.jpgTech titan Bill Gates appears to be making the transition from head of the biggest software company in the world to a man comfortable taking out the trash. His investment company, BGI, which owns 2.3 percent of Waste Management, is telling the company its unsolicited $6.2 billion bid for Republic Services is ill-advised and that it should walk away. While his investment vehicles have stakes in dozens of companies, they have kept low profiles over the years and Gates has not traditionally been known as an activist investor. But BGI didn’t mince words in its letter to Waste Management’s CEO and board, disclosed on Thursday. “We can only assume your ill-timed and poorly conceived pursuit of Republic is designed to disrupt what you perceive as a competitive threat to your position in the market,” wrote BGI. “An acquisition of Republic will most certainly burden the company with excessive debt, distract your management, result in significant regulatory burdens, and thereby reduce shareholder value,” it said.

Yahoo‘s annual investor meeting today will be a magnet for discontent over the company’s failure to reach a merger deal with Microsoft and complaints about the company’s past performance. But any real action to reshape Yahoo’s course is likely to take place only after the meeting, once activist investor Carl Icahn and two outside nominees join an expanded 11-member board as part of a deal with the company to avoid a proxy battle. Far from a showdown over control of Yahoo, the annual meeting has the makings of a noisy media circus where the issue of whether Yahoo should remain independent or not competes with older protests over executive pay and human rights policies. For while the exercise of shareholder democracy will allow investors small and large to vent over what might have been, the outraged speeches are likely to have only symbolic effects since Icahn withdrew his overt challenge to Yahoo’s board. “I am sure that Yahoo management will take a verbal beating,” Jim Friedland, an analyst Cowen & Co, said. “I just don’t think that the annual meeting is where the debate over Yahoo strategy is going to take place.” In a blog post on Thursday, Icahn downplayed the importance of the event, saying he plans to skip the meeting himself.

Spanish solar power company Fotowatio said that General Electric‘s Energy Financial Services unit had bought 32 percent of the company for 150 million euros ($233.5 million). Grupo Corporativo Landon — a holding company for the Gallardo family, which owns Barcelona-based pharmaceutical group Almirall — also bought a 17.5 percent stake for 75 million euros, the company added in a statement. Fotowatio said that together with its new partners, it had earmarked 2.5 billion euros to invest by 2012 in photovoltaic and thermosolar plants in Spain, Italy, the United States, and other countries. Currently, the company has four installations, with a total installed capacity of 60 megawatts, which it plans to expand to 800 MW by 2012. Photovoltaic (PV) power has boomed in recent years in Spain due to generous government subsidies, but these will be slashed next year.

Deeper into the abyss

A man walks out of the headquarters of Freddie MacThe subprime crisis has come to this: The U.S. government is considering taking over mortgage finance companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac if their funding problems worsen, the New York Times reported, citing people briefed on the matter. Fannie and Freddie, government-sponsored entities that have the implicit backing of Washington, would be placed into conservatorship, with shareholders left with little or nothing, and the losses on the $5 trillion in home loans they own or guarantee — what amounts to half of all U.S. mortgages — would be paid by U.S. taxpayers.

General Electric is set to sell its Japanese consumer finance operation to Shinsei Bank for 580 billion yen ($5.4 billion), people familiar with the matter said. The business includes a moneylender, Lake, as well as a credit card and housing loan operation. GE had previously said it was looking to sell Lake, but did not say anything about the entire Japanese consumer finance business.

How’s this for an about-face? Anheuser-Busch is in active talks to sell itself to InBev in a friendly deal, the New York Times said on its website, citing people briefed on the matter. Price seems to be a factor, with InBev seemingly open to raising its $65 per share offer, along with pressure from major shareholders like Warren Buffett. What will politicians like Sen. Claire McCaskill and presidential candidate Barack Obama say now that “America’s Beer” may be selling itself willingly?