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GE shares fall after company says DOJ, SEC looking into its $22 billion write-down

The disclosure comes the same day the company announced that it plans to cut its dividend from $0.12 a share to a penny a share.

The General Electric logo is displayed at the top of their Global Operations Center in the Banks development of downtown Cincinnati.
The General Electric logo is displayed at the top of their Global Operations Center in the Banks development of downtown Cincinnati.Read moreAP

The embattled industrial giant General Electric said Tuesday that federal regulators are looking into its accounting practices over a $22 billion write-down from the company's power business.

The disclosure came the same day the company released its third-quarter earnings report under new chief executive Larry Culp, formerly of Danaher Corp.

The $22 billion charge, tied to acquisitions in the company's power businesses, highlights the failings of GE's investments in its power unit. When the charge was announced Oct. 1, along with the news of Culp's appointment, the company said it would miss earnings expectations for 2018.

During a conference call with investors Tuesday, chief financial officer Jamie Miller said that $22 billion charge had prompted the Securities and Exchange Commission to expand its investigation. The Department of Justice is also looking into the charges. The company reported a net loss of $22.8 billion in the third quarter due to the charge, and is cooperating with both federal agencies in the investigation.

The SEC had already been investigating GE over how the Boston-based company recognized revenue from long-term service agreements for the maintenance of power plants, jet engines, and other industrial equipment it sells. The probe is also looking into whether there was a miscalculation in one of GE's insurance subsidiaries that cost the company $15 billion, as well as a $6 billion charge related to the company's financial unit, GE Capital, which was announced in January.

During the call, Culp faced investors for the first time since his appointment to lead the company and sought to reassure them about GE's future, despite its litany of struggles.

"Our results are far from our full potential," Culp said. "We will heighten our sense of urgency and increase accountability across the organization to deliver better results."

Revenue in the third quarter had fallen 4 percent to $29.57 billion, according to the company's earnings report Tuesday, and the company lost $2.63 a share during the same period.

"The company perhaps doesn't enjoy the reputation that it once did in certain quarters," Culp said. "There are good things going on here, but that doesn't necessarily take away from today's headlines. But there are things we can do to build on this team and these assets."

To recover cash flow, the company announced it will slash its dividend from $0.12 per share to a penny a share in December, a move that will allow GE to retain roughly $3.9 billion in cash. It's a stark symbol for GE's strife, as it was once known for its stable dividends.

The cut in dividends was worse than analysts had predicted, but it's just further evidence of the company's steep decline, said Ivan Feinseth, chief investment officer at Tigress Financial Partners.

"Unfortunately GE is no longer the beacon of industrial and financial leadership that it once was," Feinseth said.

It's not unusual that Culp's first public debut was colored by bad news, Feinseth said. When reins change hands at a beleaguered company, it's expected that the new leader will "slash and burn everything."

"Right now, nobody cares about the current business situation," Feinseth said. "This company is broken and in need of repair, and GE needs to make some bold moves. Everything is focused on what they're going to do differently."

GE shares closed at $10.18, down $0.98, or 8.78 percent.